The 59th Grammy Awards took place Sunday night and some of our favorite awards were presented. The award of most interest to our readers is the Best Bluegrass Album. The coveted Gramophone trophy was awarded to the O'Connor Band with Mark O'Connor for their album, Coming Home released on Rounder Records. Other bands nominated for the award include Blue Highway for Original Traditional, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver for Burdern Bearer, Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands for The Hazel And Alice Sessions, and Claire Lynch for North by South.
The O'Connor Band, the family band led by acclaimed musician and composer Mark O'Connor, has announced the release their debut album, Coming Home, August 5th of last year. Throughout the 12-song album, the O'Connor Band draws upon a deep well of talent and tradition to make music whose sonic and emotional appeal transcends time and genre, demonstrating an effortless rapport that underlines the group's family roots as well as its prestigious collective pedigree.
The O'Connor Band's diverse musical interests and stylistic backgrounds are reflected throughout Coming Home, which is centered on uplifting, smart, and exploratory original vocal songs. From the evocative rural songcraft of the title track and "Always Do," to the haunting storytelling and colorful imagery of "Blacktop Boy," to the incisiveness of "What Have I Been Saying," the band's originals draw largely upon the writing style of the top country writers of the '80s and '90s, which is refreshing in this acoustic context.
The album is complemented by Mark O'Connor's arrangements of several classics, including a breakneck rendition of "Ruby, Are You Mad At Your Man," the Bill Monroe-penned "Jerusalem Ridge," and his memorable original composition, "Fiddler Going Home." While family bands are not uncommon - especially in roots music - it's rare to find one so versatile, and with such a captivating backstory.
Mark O'Connor is a former child prodigy and national champion on the fiddle, guitar, and mandolin; an award-winning musician and composer with many CMA Awards and Grammys to his name; and the author of a groundbreaking instructional method for strings. He has performed with hundreds of symphony orchestras around the world, and collaborated with a who's who of iconic artists over the years. Hailed by The New York Times as having followed "one of the most spectacular journeys in recent American music," O'Connor's career has been unique and inspiring.
In the O'Connor Band, Mark is joined by his wife Maggie (fiddle, vocals), his son Forrest (mandolin, vocals), and Forrest's partner, Kate Lee (fiddle, vocals), all of whom are highly regarded young musicians who already have years of professional experience under their belts.
Forrest O'Connor, a graduate of Harvard University and the former Tennessee State Mandolin Champion, met Kate Lee, a versatile vocalist, fiddler, and frequent performer on the Country Music Association Awards shows, in late 2013, and the two have been writing songs together ever since.
Kate Lee is an award-winning songwriter who has performed with some of the biggest names in country music, including Martina McBride, Lady Antebellum, Vince Gill, Jennifer Nettles, and Rascal Flatts.
Maggie O'Connor, a Master's graduate of the Peabody Institute, is a highly accomplished violinist and fiddler, and has performed duos with Mark around the world, including with the Mendelssohn Orchestra of Hungary, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, and the Santa Rosa Symphony.
The lineup is rounded out by national flatpick guitar champion Joe Smart on guitar, and University of Miami PhD candidate Geoff Saunders on bass and banjo. O'Connor remarks, "Joe's playing on Coming Home has to be one of the best bluegrass guitar performances of the year, and our co-producer, Gregg Field, praised Geoff as having the best bass sound he'd ever gotten on record. Pretty amazing stuff for players who haven't been on the scene that long yet!"
All of the nominated artists have won numerous awards throughout their musical careers so the competition was among some of the finest artists to wear the Bluegrass label. Congratulations to the O'Connor Family Band and to all the nominees who gave us such outstanding music last year.