J.D. Crowe was just 15 when joined up with bluegrass great Jimmy Martin in 1954, but now he’s a legend in his own right–a bandleader and banjo master who’s justly revered as a keeper of the tradition and who’s brought along such important players as Doyle Lawson, Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs, and Jerry Douglas. But he’s also done plenty to challenge the conventions bluegrass holds sacred, as you can hear on My Home Ain’t in the Hall of Fame, an album Crowe cut back in 1979 with a young singer named Keith Whitley, reissued last month on Rounder. At the time Whitley had grown tired of the rigid traditionalism of Ralph Stanley’s band, and Crowe was ripe for a change himself; together they cut an excellent hard-country record complete with steel guitar. Whitley, whose subsequent career as a Nashville chart topper was cut short by his alcohol-related death in 1989, was possessed by the mountain soul of classic bluegrass, but he also had a way with honky-tonk: on a slowed-down cover of “(I’ll Be Your) Stepping Stone” his phrasing echoes George Jones, while he plays it sweet on Lefty Frizzell’s “She’s Gone, Gone, Gone.” Crowe’s most recent album, Come On Down to My World (Rounder, 1999), which spotlights his excellent picking and the New South’s perfect harmonies, is a more typical outing, but he’s still broad-minded enough to slip a few country numbers in among the bluegrass standards for his live shows. Special Consensus opens. Friday, February 21, 7:30 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Senor McGuire.