Over the years the bands headed by bluegrass banjoist J.D. Crowe have doubled as a training ground for some of country music’s finest instrumentalists and vocalists–among the beneficiaries of his disciplined leadership are Doyle Lawson, Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, and Keith Whitley. Crowe, himself a disciple of Earl Scruggs, came up through Jimmy Martin’s band in the late 50s and early 60s, and while fronting his own Kentucky Mountain Boys in the early 70s he broke all the bluegrass rules by bringing in popular country songs from the likes of Gram Parsons and, perhaps less visionary, Gordon Lightfoot. Soon after he changed the band’s name to the New South. Though he lay low in the late 80s, Crowe’s come back to recording and performing during this decade, and his new album, Come On Down to My World (Rounder), proves he’s still got plenty of gas in the tank. The band masterfully adapts Merle Haggard’s “Back to the Barrooms” and the Charlie Pride hit “I’m So Afraid of Losing You Again” and gallops through fiery breakdowns like Crowe’s “J’s Tune” and the classic “Careless Love.” Mandolinist Dwight McCall and guitarist Greg Luck are fine, if occasionally antiseptic, vocalists who, when joined by Crowe, produce trio harmonies that sometimes threaten to dissolve into the ether. But when the group truly bears down, as on “You Didn’t Say Goodbye,” it’s hot as a lit firecracker. Friday, 7:30 PM, Naperville Bluegrass Music Festival, Holiday Inn Select, 1801 Naper Blvd., Naperville; 630-505-4900. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Se–ar McGuire.