Although Sam Bush is a trifle young to qualify as “legendary,” his pioneering bluegrass style has been so influential among contemporary bluegrassers that he ranks at the very pinnacle of the bluegrass firmament. What makes Bush such a musical giant? Perhaps it’s his special ability to find every song’s essential groove and then rock it as hard as he can.
Sam Bush’s career began way back in the late ‘60’s in the Bluegrass Alliance band. But he’s best known for The New Grass Revival, who produced influential music till the late ‘80’s. Next Bush played in the bluegrass super-group Strength in Numbers with Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck, Mark O’Connor and Edgar Meyer. After their last album in 1989, The Telluride Sessions, Bush joined Emmylou Harris as the bandleader of the Nash Ramblers band. When he left Harris in 1994 he started his own group, which he’s been leading, with various personnel changes. During his roughly 40-year career Bush has played with almost every bluegrass and acoustic musician of note as well as doing session work playing mandolin and fiddle on albums by everyone from Michael Bolton to Steve Earle.
On his latest, Circles Around Me, Bush dispels the full breadth of his repertoire. Accompanied by his regular touring band, with Scott Vestal on banjo, Stephan Mougin on guitar, and Byron House on bass, Bush demonstrates his ability to deliver a song so that the tune, not the players, is the star. It may seem paradoxical that someone who’s known as a virtuoso player would be so adept at sublimating his flash in favor of the song, but this particular skill is what’s made Sam Bush so popular for so long. On the title and opening cut, “Circles Around Me,” which Bush co-wrote with Jeff Black, he immediately sets the mood for the album. “It’s about being thankful that you’re still here.” Which is how Sam Bush’s fans will feel by the end of the CD.
Although Circles Around Me features quite a few new tunes, Sam Bush isn’t one to neglect his bluegrass roots. Del McCoury adds is unmistakable tenor voice to Bush’s lead vocals on two vintage Bill Monroe Numbers, “Roll On Buddy” and “Midnight on the Stormy Deep,” Bush even went back to his New Grass Revival days for several remakes of songs he first recorded when he was with that seminal group. On “Whisper My Name” he’s proud he could still sing the tune in the same key as when he originally recorded it over 35 years ago.
When you listen to Circles Around Me it’s hard to believe that Sam Bush has been making music for as long as he has. Infectious energy pulses from his latest release with as much power as when he was a young buck.