Legendary Nashville songwriter Roger Miller once wrote about what happens “When Two Worlds Collide,” but even though, at first glance, the progressive British rock of the Moody Blues and the all-star bluegrass lineup paying tribute to that music may seem worlds apart, the harmonious results, Moody Bluegrass Two…Much Love, prove they’re really parallel universes.
The late ‘60s was an incredibly creative time for music on both sides of the Atlantic. In the world of rock, singles had given way to concept albums and the stations airing on that new radio technology – FM -- were playing complete LPs. For The Moody Blues, who’d first topped American charts with such hits as “Go Now” (1964) and “Nights in White Satin” (1967) it meant that their classic albums like In Search of the Lost Chord (1967), Days of Future Passed (1968) and To Our Children’s Children’s Children (1969) were getting unprecedented airplay and finding a huge audience in the States, just as fellow Brits like The Who did with Tommy, The Rolling Stones with Their Satanic Majesties Request, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and of course, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
But in the world of bluegrass, there was a whole other revolution going on. Bill Monroe’s musical vision was evolving, as veteran bands like The Osborne Brothers and Jim & Jesse & The Virginia Boys “went electric,” bringing folk, pop and rock material into the bluegrass repertoire and causing the same sort of controversy at bluegrass festivals as Bob Dylan famously had at the Newport Folk Festival when he traded his Gibson flattop for a Fender Strat. Younger groups like The Country Gentlemen, The Dillards and The Bluegrass Alliance, the last of which featured a teen-aged Sam Bush and Tony Rice, took things a few steps further still.
Along with repertoire, that innovative era expanded instrumental techniques and vocal harmonies in a progressive bluegrass movement that thrived through the ‘70s. While Sam Bush was on the cutting edge of the former with Bluegrass Alliance and New Grass Revival, Harley Allen, with his family group The Allen Brothers and his father, bluegrass great Red Allen, was doing the same with vocals and songwriting.
By the ‘80s, bluegrass had returned to its roots, polyester and electric basses giving way to tailored suits and acoustic uprights, as banjo pickers dropped chromatic excesses for a revival of classic Scruggs style.
The Moodies also found a middle ground in the ‘80s, returning to the charts and starring on MTV with tighter, carefully crafted hits like “Your Wildest Dreams” (1986) and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” (1988), songs that tempered the band’s classic prog-rock with a modern pop sensibility.
But, even from the very start, the Moodies and their bluegrass admirers were not so far apart. Moody bassist John Lodge says the Moody Bluegrass projects take him back to his skiffle days, playing acoustic folk music on streetcorners when he was a kid. That was the start for most of those first generation British Invasion bands, including the Beatles, who famously got their starts as a skiffle group called the Quarrymen. And even in the heights of The Moody Blues’ psychedelic glory, strummed acoustic guitars formed the bedrock of their sound.
Given all that, it’s no wonder those two worlds came together so beautifully on the first Moody Bluegrass album. And after helming the first, producer and multi-instrumentalist David Harvey knew exactly what he wanted for the second.