Karl Shiflett

Karl-leadKarl Shiflett
By Bob Allen

When Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show commandeered the stage at an American Legion Hall in rural southern Maryland earlier this year, they immediately brought a wave of sunshine into a chilly and sullen April afternoon.

With his doleful countenance and antic stage presence (he bobs and weaves with his bandmates as they share a single mic and sometimes launches into songs with a dramatic high leg kick), Shiflett comes across as a combination of a goodhearted class clown and your favorite uncle.

The first of the band’s two sets leaned heavily toward honky-tonk and Western Swing. It included rousing renditions of oldies by Hank Thompson, Porter Wagoner, and Western Swing King Bob Wills. In introducing his reprise of “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It,” Shiflett quipped, “This was a big record for us. It took an old Hank Williams song to get us on the bluegrass charts.” He was just making the larger point that Big Country Show’s music harkens back to a time when there was little or no debate about what’s bluegrass and what’s not. A time when pace setters like Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs were simply considered “country stars.”

During the 1950s and 1960s in central Texas in Limestone County (the birthplace of Bob Wills, to be precise) where Shiflett was raised and still lives, all the local bluegrass musicians were influenced just as much by Bob Wills and Ernest Tubb as they were by Flatt & Scruggs, one of Shiflett’s most abiding influences. As Shiflett has noted elsewhere, “I’ve always referred to our music as country music and not necessarily bluegrass. It’s kind of like Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. That’s the way they referred to their music.” Read entire article »

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September 2018 Reviews


DAVID DAVIS & THE WARRIOR RIVER BOYS DIDN’T HE RAMBLE: SONGS OF CHARLIE POOLE Rounder Records 1166100347 If you’re intrigued to hear music that inspired many of first generation artists long before the Big Bang of bluegrass music in December 1945 (or even 1939, with the formation of the Blue Grass Boys), you’ll find this […]

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VARIOUS ARTISTS EPILOGUE: A TRIBUTE TO JOHN DUFFEY Smithsonian Folkways SFW 40228    This is a marvelous new project celebrating the legacy of John Duffey who passed away in 1996. Produced by Akira Otsuka and the late Ronnie Freeland, the two got together in 2002 when they met at the IBMA’s World Of Bluegrass in Louisville, […]

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THE LIFE I’VE PICKED BY JOHN McEUEN Chicago Review Press 9781613738955. Paperback, index, color photos, 328 pp., $18.99. (Chicago Review Press, 814 N. Franklin St., Chicago, IL 60610, www.chicagoreviewpress.com.) This autobiography has received topnotch ratings from many reviewers. Readers of this magazine may already know of McEuen’s many credentials: founding member of the Nitty Gritty […]

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HIGHER GROUND BLUEGRASS HGB: 20 YEARS DUKE WEDDINGTON & HIGHER GROUND BLUEGRASS CLANN No Label No Number Hailing from New Mexico, these folks bring a well-played program of bluegrass from the folksier side of the genre. Their music has a broad appeal with its uptempo approach and contemporary vocal stylings. Some of their original material […]

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DON’T GIVE YOUR HEART TO A RAMBLER: MY LIFE WITH JIMMY MARTIN, THE KING OF BLUEGRASS BY BARBARA MARTIN STEPHENS Univ. of Illinois Press 9780252082764. Paperback, 200 pp, b/w photos, $19.95. (Univ. of Illinois Press, 1325 S. Oak St., Champaign, IL 61820, press.uillinois.edu.) Fans know the professional life of Jimmy Martin from his years on […]

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FINK, MARXER, GLEAVES SHOUT AND SHINE Community Music CMCD213 Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer are known for their unique take on many genres of music, from country to bluegrass to folk to old-time. On this project, they’re joined by multi-instrumentalist Sam Gleaves to round out the trio and produce a fine collection of songs from […]

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THE TILLERS Sofaburn Records SBR2-034 Two of the principal characteristics that can set apart a bluegrass band from the rest of the pack are the quality of their original material and the power of their instrumental chops. The Tillers, a Cincinnati quartet, have two main singers/songwriters in their lineup—guitarist Sean Geil and banjoist Mike Oberst. […]

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JUNIOR SISK BRAND NEW SHADE OF BLUE Mountain Fever MFR 180608    At the end of 2017, rather than deal with personnel changes and reform his band, 2013 IBMA Male Vocalist Of The Year Junior Sisk decided to use this new album to refocus on the traditional music that first set his musical soul on fire. […]

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