There is a moment, near the top of this Tiny Desk concert — when three voices gather 'round a single microphone to deliver the chorus of "That Ol' Train" — that is so pure and beautiful it made my eyes well up with tears when we filmed it. Not since bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley played the Tiny Desk in 2009 have I felt vocals resonate so deeply.
Del McCoury is another bluegrass legend, singing, playing guitar and writing songs for the past 60 years, including his days with the "father of bluegrass," Mr. Bill Monroe. The Del McCoury Band itself is 50 years strong, and these days includes Del's sons Robbie on banjo and Ronnie on mandolin and vocals. All are astonishing players, here joined by the five-time award-winning fiddling of Jason Carter and this year's International Bluegrass Music Association bass player of the year Alan Bartram.
For their visit to the Tiny Desk, the group brought along some traveling songs. The first (of two) train tunes, "That Ol' Train," comes from their new album Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass, while their closing gospel tale "All Aboard" is a staple from 2001's Del and the Boys. The other (a motorcycle song), "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," was written by another master of his craft, British folk icon Richard Thompson, and has been a part of Del's repertoire for a while now. It shows not only the deep connection that bluegrass has to British folk music, but also Del McCoury's willingness to keep his sound fresh all these years on.
These are story songs; Del is, of course, quite the storyteller, taking his time between them to reminisce. At 79 years old, he's got a lot of them tell.
- "That Ol' Train"
- "1952 Vincent Black Lightning"
- "All Aboard"
Del McCoury (vocals, guitar), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin, vocals), Rob McCoury (banjo), Alan Bartram (bass, vocals), Jason Carter (fiddle)
Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Bronson Arcuri, Khun Minn Ohn; Production Assistants: Catherine Zhang, Téa Mottolese; Photo: Samantha Clark/NPR.