The Originator of Newgrass, King of Telluride and Mandolin Man are just a few of the titles given to Sam Bush over the years. They're all deserved, as Bush has earned his due through an illustrious career in music spanning over 40 years. Now approaching 60, Sam shows no sign of settling down, as shown on his seventh solo album Circles Around Me.
Sam Bush conquered music at a young age: He started playing mandolin at the age of 11 and as a teenager was a three-time winner of the junior division of the National Fiddler's Convention. Now, he's a Grammy Award winner and an American Music Association Lifetime Achievement recipient.
Bush spent his early career reinventing bluegrass in New Grass Revival, incorporating electric instruments and rock & roll. Their progressive bluegrass style drew the ire of traditionalists like Bill Monroe, but lured the ears of many who would otherwise not listen to the genre.
Outside of New Grass, Bush has served as a support musician for a long line of artists, from Garth Brooks and Shania Twain to Doc Watson and Jerry Douglas. Not one to stand in the shadows, Bush started recording as a solo artist in 1985.
His career has slowly snowballed since, especially on the live circuit, where he is in demand more than ever. Bush is regular performer at MerleFest and has appeared at Boone's Music On The Mountaintop since its inception in 2008.
With Circles Around Me, Bush takes on traditional bluegrass numbers and presents several originals and instrumentals. Bush, of course, does the majority of the singing and exudes musical mystique on the fiddle and mandolin. He's complimented by the guitar, bass, banjo and drums, along with harmony vocals from his band.
The title song, "Circles Around Me," breaks the album wide open. It's the most personal song of Circles, with Bush questioning, "How the hell did we get this far?" An almost-romantic retrospective of his life, Sam expresses his gratitude for all of the good things that have come his way in life. The album opener, it's hard to get past without a few repeat listens.
There's plenty of storytelling on Circles, the most notable being "The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle." The words and music explain the tragic story of murders of Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw cast member Stringbean and his wife, Estelle. The song was recently nominated for Song of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association.
A few guest performers only add to the already absurd amount of talent displayed on Circles. Jerry Douglas contributes his world-renowned dobro playing to "Gold Heart Locket." The legendary Del McCoury appears on two songs, "Midnight on the Stormy Deep" and the cheerfully entertaining "Roll On Buddy, Roll On."
Sam admits in interviews that singing is not his forte, but he does a fine job on Circles. His soulful vocals flow excellently over his first-rate playing. As for Bush's fingerwork on album, only this needs to be said, "Damn Sam."
Even on the outside, Sam Bush is a class act, appearing on the cover of Circles Around Me in a suit and tie. Flip to the backside and see just how cool this guy is, kicked back with his mandolin, wearing his custom Gibson Converse hi-tops. Sam is not going away anytime soon. Like Del McCoury and others in the bluegrass world, he'll probably still be plucking into his 70s and 80s.