Sam Bush: King Of My World

Sam Bush has played on over 100 albums. In fact, on his official website,, he is credited with probably closer to 200 album appearances, I just got tired of counting at 100. He may well be this country’s most famous living mandolinist any side of David Grisman. He is known in some circles as the “Mayor of Telluride” due to the fact that he has performed at 26 of the 27 Telluride Bluegrass Festivals. Some prefer to call him, simply, King Sammy. What ever you call him you owe it to yourself to take a listen to his latest offering of foot-stomping bluegrass, King Of My World.

The veteran mandolinist (who also plays fiddle, banjo and guitar) has been on the scene for more than 35 years, making his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in 1969. After so many years of being submersed in bluegrass, it’s no wonder he has the ability to sound so fresh, playing songs that by nature, are often supposed to sound anything but fresh. Two of the standout tracks on the disc are rollicking instrumentals featuring Bush’s fiddle playing. On both “Puppies ‘N Knapsacks” and “The Mahavishnu Mountain Boys,” his solos leave you short of breath by the end, clamoring for more of that kicking, down south, no questions asked, raging mountain music.

As good as his fiddle playing is on this record, his mandolin chops are more colorful and even more full of life. The slide mandolin he displays on a wonderful take of Keb Mo’s uplifting rocker, “A Better Man,” is some of the more inspired picking I’ve heard. His creativity with the delicate instrument on a number like “Bananas,” or his beautiful tone on a tune such as “King Of The World,” affirm his place as one of the best pickers ever to play. As if his reputation could have possibly been in jeopardy.

Bush’s ever-youthful voice represents to me what bluegrass singing is supposed to sound like; inspiring and comfortable, yet lonely. I for one (like many others, I’m sure) got into bluegrass through the albums of New Grass Revival, a band which was founded and lead by none other than Mr. Bush, and thus, I have always associated the sound of his voice with that of quintessential bluegrass crooning. Some words seem to soar from his mouth, reaching for un-chartered heights. His phrasing on “Majestic,” for example, can at times flirt with perfection.

The musicians Bush has leaned on here to provide the spine of this musical body are all accomplished session men and play integral parts on this excellent record. The most notable contribution comes from the great organist and piano player Reese Wynans, whose playing at the end of “Spirit Is The Journey,” adds just the right amount of atmosphere to one of the album’s real gems – also highlighted by the perky electric bass line supplied by the steady Byron House.

The album does have a few inconsistent moments (the song “The Wizard Of Oz”– an homage to Bush’s favorite baseball player, Ozzie Smith– is fun but feels hugely out of place here) but all in all, it’s one of the more optimistic statements in bluegrass in quite some time. It won’t cause a momentary world wide bluegrass craze a la the popular soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? did, but it should be well received by any serious fans of down home, acoustic roots music.

Related Content

Recent Posts

New to Glide

Keep up-to-date with Glide