Russ Barenberg: Musical Dualities

Russ Barenberg

Russ Barenberg

Today on the Music Room, we talked to Russ Barenberg, described by songwriter Jon Weisberger as “perfectly blend[ing] a mastery of roots music tradition with melodic originality.”  His music is exceptionally lyrical, relying primarily on composition rather than tempo to provide the energy, and incorporating various genres and instruments.

This energy and collaborative spirit carries over into his own life.  Starting in 1970 on the guitar with the bluegrass group Country Cooking in Ithaca, NY, by 1977 he’d joined the electric string band Carried Away on the electric guitar, and in 1979 moved to Boston and joined the triple fiddle band Fiddle Fever, but not before recording his debut solo album Cowboy Calypsocalypso.

While he settled in Nashville by 1986, he has only continued traveling, visiting workshops throughout the United States and Europe as a teacher and educational author, and he has participated in Transatlantic Sessions, an international collaboration by artists in both the US and Europe, produced in Scotland, and producing TV episodes, live performances, and series albums.

Speaking of television, he also did extensive work in Ken Burns features, including the critically acclaimed film The Civil War, and his most recent solo album When at Last, with the single “Little Monk,” nominated for a 2008 Grammy (Best Country Instrumental Performance).


The Interview

Russ Barenberg
(Recorded live, September 15, 2015; host, Mandorichard)
20.7 MB

The Music

Artist / Song / Album / Year / Notes
Russ Barenberg / Cowboy Calypso / Cowboy Calypso / 1979 / (Excerpt in podcast)
Jerry Douglas, Russ Barenberg, & Edgar Meyer / The Travels of Mr. Hulot / Skip, Hop, and Wobble / 1993 / (Excerpt in podcast)
Russ Barenberg / Halloween Rehearsal / Halloween Rehearsal / 1987 / (Excerpt in podcast)
Russ Barenberg / Magic Foot / Moving Pictures / 1988 / (Excerpt in podcast)
Russ Barenberg / When at Last / When at Last / 2007 / (Excerpt in podcast)

(Note: Due to copyright considerations, the podcast contains excerpts of the music included in the full radio program.)

Pure Poison and Family Gospel

Sarah HarrisIt’s a familiar story. Mike and Lisa meet in church, fall in love, get married, have three kids, give their oldest daughter guitar lessons…

And by 2011 have started touring the continental US as a family bluegrass group.

Not so familiar then. Today on the Music Room we talked to Sarah Harris, a “ray of sunshine” from Callahan, FL and lead singer and mandolinist of the Trinity River Band.

The Trinity River Band is a bluegrass/gospel group that incorporates various genres into their music, including Irish American folk and 80s rock. For this versatility, they have earned worldwide radio broadcasts, and “Better than Blue,” from their eponymous 2014 album, peaked on the Bluegrass Today Weekly National Survey at #4.

Within that album appears Sarah’s song “Pure Poison,” which she wrote for her brother John, the group’s banjo player who also wields a variety of musical instruments.

We also spoke with Sarah about the influence of gospel on country, traveling on the road as a family, her appearance on Alex Rutledge’s TV show Bloodlines, and Brianna, the youngest member, who plays the fiddle and turns 13 tomorrow. All the best!

Be sure to stay posted; they tour the Northeast this summer, and their new album Heartstrings comes out this May.

The Interview

Sarah Harris
(Recorded live 02/24/15; host: Mandorichard), 29:59, 29.3 MB.

The Music

The following music is heard in this episode of The Music Room:

  • Artist / Song / Album (or note) / Date / Notes
  • Trinity River Band / Bearfoot Breakdown / Better than Blue / 2014
  • Trinity River Band / Pure Poison / Better than Blue / 2014
  • Trinity River Band / Near the Cross (excerpt) / Bluegrass on the Plains Festival / 2013 (Excerpt)
  • Trinity River Band / Better than Blue / Better than Blue/ 2014

Nora Jane Struthers: Singin’ the Party Line


“When you go to a Carnival, you go into a sideshow tent, and on every stage you find a different person with a different story,” says Nora Jane Struthers. “That’s why I’m trying to do with this album – craft vignettes, and in some cases more developed narratives, about imaginary people’s lives.”

This was the mission statement for Nora Jane Struthers’ newest album, Carnival, the follow up on her award-winning self-titled album from 2010, which further displays Nora’s skills as both a vocalist and a songwriter of Americana music. Carnival also marks the recorded debut of her touring group, The Party Line, consisting of Joe Overton (clawhammer banjo and harmony vocals), Drew Lawhorn (drums), Nick DiSebastian (upright bass and guitar), and Jack Devereux (fiddle).

While Nora is rooted in the country tradition, through a combination of her songwriting, her voice and her presence both on and stage in recordings, she has advanced traditional country in great new ways. We discussed the song “I Heard the Bluebirds Singing,” a song from an album she recorded with her father, and the process behind the creation of Carnival, as well as her song-writing and use of imagery–rooted in the tradition, but contemporary, too.

For more information about Nora Jane and her music, view her website, which includes links to her discography and her touring schedule.

The Interview

Nora Jane Struthers (Recorded 3/05/14; original broadcast date: 3/18/14; host: Mandorichard), 26:48, 25.7 MB.

The interview will re-air on WVUD on Tue 4/01/14.

The Music

The following music is heard in this episode of The Music Room:

  • Artist / Song / Album (or note) / Label (or source) / Date / Notes
  • Dirt Road Sweetheart / I Heard the Bluebirds Singing / I Heard the Bluebirds Singing / Blue Pig Music / 2009 / Nora Jane and her dad, Al Struthers
  • Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line / Bike Ride / Carnival / Blue Pig Music / 2013
  • Nora Jane Struthers / Mocking Bird / Nora Jane Struthers / Blue Pig Music / 2010
  • Bearfoot / Tell Me a Story / American Story / Compass / 2011 / (Excerpt in podcast; full version when aired on WVUD)