Note: Missy Raines' concert at The Casbah has been been canceled.
As a lifelong bluegrasser, Missy Raines knows how fussy fans can be when someone "tinkers" with Bill Monroe's iconic music. Yet as an artist, Raines knows to follow her muse.
Her muse led the award-winning bassist to establish Missy Raines and the New Hip, the exceptional acoustic combo that released its debut CD, "Inside Out," last year. While incorporating elements of bluegrass, the album ranges widely into jazz, pop and folk. The result is a creative blend of styles and sounds that is interesting, adventurous and bold.
"It was my goal to create and play music I was interested in and that I could collaborate on with other artists," says Raines, who will perform in Durham tonight at the Casbah. "Whatever that ended up being, I wanted to do as good as I could and hope that somebody liked it. We've found that the response has been pretty positive. And I feel like that's a great indication of where the music's heading.
"We're not a bluegrass band, and I never try to portray that we are. But I am so much from that world, that there is always going to be an influence and an element of it in my music."
Revered as one of the top instrumentalists in her field, Raines has been voted the International Bluegrass Music Association's top bass player a record seven years. She's performed with such notable artists as Eddie and Martha Adcock, and the Claire Lynch Band, and teamed with guitarist Jim Hurst for a head-turning duo before establishing the New Hip in 2008.
Raines understands that some bluegrass fans reject experimentation, preferring instead the fossilization of the sound Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass established in the 1940s. But she's pleased that others have accepted her and her musical explorations.
"I definitely have felt the warmth from the audience many times," she says. "I like to think the audiences are getting more sophisticated, too. They're starting to understand there's room for growth and that it doesn't have a detrimental effect on the purest of bluegrass sound. In fact, it's the best thing in the world for it all to be able to exist together.
"[S]ome of the staunchest Bill Monroe fans come up at the end of the show and say, 'I came in here kind of skeptical; I'm a big fan of yours and I wanted to come see the show. But I loved it!' So they're thinking that they're not going to like it because of all the elements that aren't traditional bluegrass. But there's something there for them. I've been gratified by that."
A native of Short Gap, W.Va., Raines, 48, began playing professionally as a teenager. Her skill on the upright bass earned invitations to perform and record with Josh Graves, Kenny Baker, Jesse McReynolds and other pioneers, honing her chops in traditional bluegrass. But she was also drawn to more experimental approaches, such as those of Joe Jackson, whose intriguing blend of pop and jazz led to a series of hits in the 1980s.
With its 10 tracks, "Inside Out" presents an eclectic range, allowing Raines and the New Hip latitude to explore their musical inclinations. Some tracks recall the jazz-grass ramblings of Strength in Numbers, while others highlight the seductive, folksy charm of Raines' lead vocals. They include Raines-penned originals, such as "Ides of March [for Dad]," and the lead, title track, along with covers from fellow bluegrassers Ed Snodderly ("Basket of Singing Birds"), Laurie Lewis and Mike Marshall ("Tatoo"), and others.
While Raines has learned that being bandleader presents challenges, it's the traditional role of the bassist as team player that she embraces.
"I do think of it every day when I'm working on music or in my office trying to navigate this band into the future," Raines says. "I do realize that's my job as the leader. At the same time, when we're all standing on stage, it's the last thing I'm thinking about. I'm thinking like a bass player.
"A bass player, to me, is about supporting the band and how I can make whatever's going on the best it can be. I don't really think about what's the next opportunity for me to step out front. I do enjoy that part of it, but I still think like a bass player."
After supporting other artists' music as rhythm master for so many years, Raines is thrilled to have the opportunity to create the kind of music she's been drawn to throughout her career. Constantly moving forward, she and the band are working on a new album while exploring the different combinations of sounds that each member of the New Hip brings to the stage.
"I'm having the time of my life," she says. "I'm wanting to maintain that environment where it's a collaborative event. For me, personally, I'm just enjoying pushing outside my comfort zone. I think that's the most exciting part of life that I've found. As long as I keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone, it's just the most exciting thing. That's what I feel I'm doing all the time with this band."