This weeks artist is one that I have long admired. The stars aligned and the time was finally right for her to be this weeks music spotlight.
Her playing approach is delicate yet can be considered powerful at the same time. She has an effortless command over the fretboard and her influences seemingly pour out of her playing. Although her influences are quite clear, she has a style stamped by her own signature tone and approach.
Courtney Hartman is most commonly associated with the all female bluegrass band Della Mae, but that is only one layer of her artistry, it stretches far beyond just Della Mae.
Don’t get me wrong, Della Mae is a high caliber, stellar bluegrass band that holds onto tradition yet pushes the boundaries of bluegrass. Della Mae is made up of Courtney Hartman on guitar, Celia Woodsmith on vocals and guitar, Kimber Ludiker on fiddle, Jenni Lynn Gardner on mandolin, and Zoe Guigueno on bass. If you love harmonies, tight instrumentation, and catchy tunes Della Mae is a band that should certainly be on your “must listen” list.
But I want to single Courtney out here because her playing and singing are sheer magic.
The way that she approaches the guitar looks completely effortless. She is calm, cool, and collected while she plays and that translates into wondrous tone and an exactness that I just cannot explain. The way she crosspicks is smooth and rhythmic, keeping the melody front and center while laying out a huge pillow of chordal support.
Her flatpick seemingly floats across the strings hitting them with an evenness that produces a very pure and distinct tone. When playing leads Courtney makes sure the melody comes across cleanly and she adds some beautiful melodic detours as well that always seem to sit perfectly in place with the tune. Courtney is never a player to go off on a flashy solo, although she is very much capable; she keeps the tune’s integrity and truly serves it with her guitar playing.
In a band setting Courtney offers rock solid rhythmic support and leads that are succinct and chocked full of flatpicking goodness. I bring up the full band setting because she also performs solo and in duo settings where her skills really shine. In my opinion, Courtney is in her element in a small format, duo or solo performance.
When performing with a smaller ensemble, Courtney’s playing changes subtly in that she fills more space yet doesn’t sacrifice the cleanliness of her playing nor the lush tone. She seems to always play the exact right thing for the song, and her leads in the smaller format performances leave you inspired and very much in sync with the tune being played.
However you hear Courtney’s playing it is sure to impress. If you are looking for a starting point I would check out her solo EP entitled, “Nothing We say.” Once you have digested that move to her John Hartford tribute album with Robert Ellis entitled “Dear John.” This album is a great look at how versatile a singer and flatpicker Courtney is, and of course when you have worked your way through that you will certainly want to hit the Della Mae catalog to round out your master class in flatpicking in just about every musical situation.
Courtney Hartman Links