Faces and Stories of Bluegrass Music in the Netherlands.

Loes Van Schaijk and Marieke Odekerken

Image635734896958027299This is my first ever book review, and let me say straight away, it's a pleasure and an honour to be asked to review a work of such high quality. The title, HIGH LONESOME BELOW SEA LEVEL, is a wonderful reference to the high lonesome sound of Bluegrass Music, and the fact that in this case, it refers to the genre as played by a dedicated band of folks who for the most part, live and work below sea level, in the lowlands of Holland.

This is what we might refer to in these parts, as a coffee table Book of the highest quality, and I'm tempted to make favourable comparisons with other high-quality Publications such as the FRETBOARD JOURNAL, and/or THE MUSIC OF BILL MONROE, by Neil Rosenberg and Charles K.Wolfe.

It's right up there with the best of them, the only major difference being that this is an Historical and greatly detailed work which tells it's story exclusively from a European perspective. As such, this may come as a [very pleasant ] surprise to American readers, many of whom may well believe that Bluegrass Music is an exclusively American practice.

The format of this fine book is comprised of Black and White Photo potraits of almost a hundred seperate players, builders, booking agents and caracters, all pictured in high quality by Photographer, Marieke Odekerken, interspersed with well-written narrative and interviews by Cultural Scholar, Loes Van Schaijk.

I think it's vital to say that you don't have to be from Holland to enjoy this beautiful book, and it would make a fine gift for any Bluegrass Fan/Student or Music history buff, and it should also form part of any serious Music Library. There's no price on my review copy, but if it were to come at around 45 dollars, HIGHT LONESOME BELOW SEA LEVEL would indeed, be more than really good value for money.

Niall Toner, July, 2015.


Niall Toner Music
Teach Burren
Co Carlow

“Reading Loes’s articles and seeing Marieke’s images capturing rare intimate moments is like being a fly on the wall of the Dutch bluegrass and roots music scene. [...] Most of these certainly bring to mind Bill Monroe, the half-Dutch bluegrass founder, Kentucky mandolin player and high tenor singer who spawned the entire genre, whose mother’s Americanized last name Vandiver is familiar in the Netherlands as Van der Veere, meaning from the small island city of Veere in the province of Zeeland. Aware and proud of bluegrass’s international appeal and its influence on other musical forms, Bill would surely have treasured this book and remembered many friends he met during his tours of the Netherlands.”

* Excerpt from the foreword to High Lonesome Below Sea Level by Sandy Rothman

Cultural scholar Loes van Schaijk and photographer Marieke Odekerken are two young Dutch women who have released a unique book revolving around the niche culture of bluegrass music in the Netherlands.

Over a time period of six months they traveled to all corners of the country, and across the borders with Belgium and Germany, to visit all kinds of people who have been captivated by bluegrass music’s characteristics: the combination of acoustic string instruments, the dazzling tempo and hard driving rhythms, the virtuoso solo breaks and improvisation, the catchy vocal harmonies and the unique “high lonesome” sound of the lead vocals.

Marieke photographed and Loes spoke to musicians, bookers and luthiers; amateurs and professionals; pioneers and rookies; wallflowers, hillbillies, and hardrockers; traditionalists, purists and people who are always looking for crossovers with other genres.

Except for their common love of bluegrass music, the only thing these people have in common is the opinion they don’t need to have anything in common. The book is a report of human individuality in fifty-six photos and as many interviews: nearly a hundred colorful character in black and white.

People who are familiar with bluegrass musicians hailing from the Netherlands might recognize the Blue Grass Boogiemen and             Joost van Es. Influential artists who have passed on, like Theo Lissenberg, and many friends and sources of inspiration from Europe, the United States or even Japan are referred to in the interviews. But also people whose name might not ring a bell with most readers right away are portrayed by Marieke and Loes in such a sincere and natural manner that it will feel like you’ve known them all your life.

A book about music is not complete without the possibility to listen to the music discussed. Thanks to the Layar technology, readers can scan each portrait with an app on their smartphone to be redirected to a webpage with music linked to the artist in question.

The first copy of the book has been officially presented to living legend and “Master of Bluegrass” Doyle Lawson and is for sale through the webshop www.bluegrassportraits.nl.

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