Nashville Regrouping: 10 Inspired Collaborations Out Of Music City : World Cafe Whether it's pairings of peers, of romantic partners or of patron saints and acolytes — there's a pattern brewing in Nashville that needs attention.
NPR logo Nashville Regrouping: 10 Inspired Collaborations Out Of Music City

Nashville Regrouping: 10 Inspired Collaborations Out Of Music City

Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge in a still from their video for "Bone Collector." YouTube hide caption

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Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge in a still from their video for "Bone Collector."

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Collaboration comes easily to musicians who started developing their chops and learning common repertoires through encountering their influences at bluegrass and folk festivals, studying with the masters at workshops and music camps, joining in at picking parties or taking their turns at old-time jams. Plenty of pickers in Nashville's buzzing acoustic scene took some version of that path on their ways to going pro, and they continually find ways to reinvigorate their musical imaginations and reconnect with where they came from by trying new combinations — some only fleeting, others longer lasting. Those might amount to pairings of peers, of romantic partners or of patron saints and acolytes.

Some of these musicians team up to stretch themselves stylistically. Others confine themselves to streamlined instrumentation in order to test their inventiveness. Whatever the angle, the prospect of regrouping holds real appeal. Here are 10 inspired collabs, each of which features at least one Nashville-based musician.

Hear The Collabs

  • Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge, "Bone Collector"

    Eldridge is best known as a member of the baroque string-band-rock outfit Punch Brothers, and he found his virtuosic equal on guitar in jazz force Julian Lage. There's an intimacy and thoughtful mutuality to the way they trade licks and unfurl tendrils of melody together on their new album, Mount Royal.

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  • Sally & George, "Tip My Heart"

    Upright bassist Shelby Means, formerly of the all-woman bluegrass outfit Della Mae, and guitarist Joel Timmons, whose previous priority was a jammy roots-rock band, are a couple in real life. They built their fancifully spare, retro roots-pop aesthetic around that dynamic on their new album, Tip My Heart, on which they share the lead singing duties.

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  • The Wu-Force, "Paper Lanterns"

    Clawhammer banjo player Abigail Washburn, guzheng master Wu Fei and multi-instrumentalist Kai Welch had each had productive solo careers in far-flung corners of the musical landscape before forming this vividly expansive trio; Fei focused on melding traditional Chinese forms with avant-garde leanings, Washburn on merging Appalachian and Chinese folk flavors in a singer-songwriter repertoire that extends to a duo project with her husband, Béla Fleck, and Welch on building a reputation as a pop- and folk-fluent studio whiz. They've made the space between their sensibilities into a musical playground on their EP.

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  • Haas Kowert Tice, "Grandpa's Cheesebarn"

    Another member of Punch Brothers, bassist Paul Kowert, joined with fiddler Brittany Haas, who'd spent several years with the progressive bluegrass band Crooked Still, and guitarist Jordan Tice, an accomplished sideman and solo performer, in this ebullient, tradition-tweaking instrumental trio. "Grandpa's Cheesebarn," a tune in which they trade vigorous, whirling melodies, comes from the trio's 2014 debut, You Got This, and a follow-up effort is nearly completed.

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  • Oliver The Crow, "Sailing With The Tide"

    Cellist Kaitlyn Raitz and fiddler Ben Plotnick have been touring as a duo for a couple of years, after putting in time with other projects (she with the folk-pop outfit Bride & Groom and he with Canadian quartet The Fretless). They've developed an egalitarian dynamic in which they use an array of techniques — bowing, plucking and chopping — to maintain a seamless groove and accentuate each other's parts.

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  • 10 String Symphony, "Prettiest Girl"

    Rarely do you see a duo consisting of two fiddle players, which must've made the concept all the more interesting to Christian Sedelmyer, formerly of the acoustic pop band The Farewell Drifters, and Rachel Baiman, who also plays banjo and releases solo singer-songwriter projects on the side. In songs like this one, from the duo's self-titled second album, Baiman and Sedelmyer merge their syncopated rhythmic interplay with twin fiddling and old-time harmony singing. They've reportedly just finished recording a batch of new material with Scottish folk musician Kris Drever.

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  • Casey Campbell & Ricky Skaggs, "Amanda Jewell"

    Campbell is a fourth-generation bluegrass picker who came up in Nashville, surrounded by giants of his genre, and had the musical intelligence to make the most of the proximity. An accomplished mandolinist (and member of the Vickie Vaughn Band), he convinced multiple generations of standard-bearers on his instrument — Skaggs included — to duet with him on his new album.

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  • ChessBoxer, "Bacon"

    Banjo player Matt Menefee and fiddle player Ross Holmes emerged from the progressive-bluegrass band Cadillac Sky to form this trio with bassist Royal Masat. They're dedicated to distilling symphonic arrangements for their three instruments — like in the shape-shifting instrumental "Bacon," with its rubbery backbeat, improvisational precision and cinematic interludes.

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  • Rayna Gellert & Kieran Kane, "Grey Bird"

    Gellert and Kane have each put in their share of time with quietly influential groups: Gellert with the all-woman string band Uncle Earl (Washburn is also a member) and Kane with the late-'80s country duo O'Kanes and, later, the singer-songwriter supergroup Kane Welch Kaplan. This broody, Celtic-inflected folk-rock tune comes from Workin's Too Hard, a seven-song set that Gellert released in January.

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  • Molly Tuttle & Lindsay Lou, "Knowledge"

    This freewheeling, front-porch cover of a ska punk song by Operation Ivy is the sort of thing that Tuttle, a guitarist, and Lou, a bassist, do for kicks, while also investing themselves in more serious music on the side: Tuttle on her upcoming, Kai Welch-produced EP Rise and Lou with her pop-steeped string band Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys.

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