In the 1980's and 1990's if you were looking for the future of bluegrass, the field was fairly limited. Alison Krauss and Union Station and the New Grass Revival with John Cowan and Bela Fleck were at the forefront of a generation of artists seeking to drive bluegrass into the new millennia. While traditional bluegrass will forever be a mainstay, artists like Nickel Creek or the John Cowan Band are taking up the mantra and breathing new life into bluegrass.
With the release this month of "New Tattoo," the John Cowan Band heralds a sound that is both old school and new, building on the foundations he and NGR laid in the last century.
Fronted by Cowan's magnificent tenor vocals "New Tattoo" rolls through a bevy of new material at breakneck speed. "Carla's Got A New Tattoo," sets the pace for the album, which also includes the traditional flavored "New Mine," "Misery & Happiness," a lament featuring harmony vocals from Patty Griffin, and the closing song, an auto-biographical piece titled "Drown" that explores the dark subject of sexual abuse and child molestation. Cowan explains, "for men this has become a taboo subject...it is a source of shame for us." "Drown" stands in stark contrast to the swift speed of the rest of the material. Even though the subject matter deserves recognition it might have been better served to be included on another album that might have a more diverse tempo and feel.
Even with the downer feel of "Drown," "New Tattoo" is a rollercoaster ride that is one continuous thrill until the end.