Pop & Rock

50 Years In Three Chords


The celebrated “bluegrass storyteller” James King was recently featured in a segment of NPR’s Fresh Air, on which critic Ken Tucker described King’s latest album, Three Chords And The Truth (Rounder), as a logical step into “hardcore country.” On the show, Tucker identifies King’s penchant for spinning yarns and shows how that knack informs his ability to take country narratives written over the last fifty years and stamp them with his signature bluegrass sound.

Opening track “The Devil’s Train” is the oldest tune on the album, recorded and made famous in 1949 by the bard of country, Hank Williams. King transforms it from Williams’ high lonesome campfire story into a bounding bluegrass burner, highlighting the familial connection between country and bluegrass. King hews closer to the original on songs like George Jones’ 1965 “Things Have Gone To Pieces,” a downtrodden tale that attempts to hold fast to the scattered bits of a dream. The surprise of the tune is that despite the similarities between the versions, King ushers it deftly into the bluegrass tradition, perhaps recognizing how well his arrangement suits the song’s blue tone.

In a way, the entire album is a story, each song a chapter representing some unique era of country music history, retold in the rich vernacular of bluegrass. King’s intertwining of two venerated oral and musical traditions places him firmly in the history of musical raconteurs.

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