The western North Carolina-based Steep Canyon Rangers have been on the forefront of bluegrass for nearly two decades, achieving worldwide acclaim for their ten albums as well as helping bring bluegrass to new audiences thanks to the band’s work with the likes of Steve Martin, Edie Brickell, and just this summer, a collaboration with the Asheville symphony and the R&B group Boyz II Men. But on their forthcoming album, the Rangers dig deep into the musical history of their home state.
Last spring at Wilkesboro, North Carolina’s MerleFest, the long-running music gathering founded by the late North Carolina flatpicking legend Doc Watson, SCR performed a set of covers that spans decades of Tar Heel State greats. They added a little twang to “Stand by Me” by Henderson native Ben E. King, picked out “Shake Sugaree” by Carrboro’s Elizabeth Cotten, and crooned the Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs tune “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” and Doc and Rosa Lee Watson’s “Your Lone Journey.” On November 29, they’ll release North Carolina Songbook, an eight-song live album of the entire festival performance.
Ahead of the album, G&G is proud to premiere the Rangers’ standout rendition of the jazz classic “Blue Monk,” a toe-tapping instrumental by the famed pianist and Rocky Mount native Thelonious Monk, first recorded in 1954.
“MerleFest seemed like the spot to honor North Carolina’s music since Doc Watson is such a touchstone for us,” says banjoist Graham Sharp. “It was clear pretty quickly that we couldn’t just do a set of Earl and Doc tunes and call it a day. So digging into the music, you start thinking how to use each band member’s strengths to cover such a wide array of material. We didn’t quite make it to [John Coltrane’s] ‘A Love Supreme,’ but maybe next year.”
Watch the video of the Rangers performing “Blue Monk” below, and see more info on North Carolina Songbook here.