NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 19: Recording Artists Bruce Hornsby and Ricky Skaggs along with Ricky's band Kentucky Thunder perform during Ricky Skaggs Day 2 - Bluegrass Rules at the CMA Theater on November 19, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. Skaggs was recently announced as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's 2013 Artist-in-Residence.
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10 Equally-Electrifying Bluegrass Covers of Rock and Pop Songs


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Beyond the countless cases of country and gospel standards getting grassed up, there's a long history of other strands of popular music weaving in nicely with fiddle, banjo, mandolin, acoustic bass and resonator guitar instrumentation.

More daring covers over time have ranged from Flatt & Scruggs' embrace in the 1960s of Bob Dylan and the folk revival to Greensky Bluegrass' live treatments of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" and Prince's "When Doves Cry." Though some interpretations of unlikely source material by legends (Del McCoury, Doc Watson and Mac Wiseman's recording of "Macarena" as the hip-hop and funk-influenced GrooveGrass Boyz) and bluegrass-inspired alt-country acts (The Gourds' infamous "Gin and Juice") elicit chuckles, the selections below are seriously good.

For brevity's sake, our playlist skips solid covers by bluegrass bands known in part for light-hearted material (The Cleverlys, Love Canon) as well as songs from the numerous Pickin' On Series projects (Iron Horse's stunning Metallica tribute albums).

The Seldom Scene - "Bad Moon Rising" (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

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There's a couple of no-brainers at play here. It's no surprise that this or just about any oldies radio fixture by Creedence Clearwater Revival translates well to bluegrass, and it makes equal sense that Maryland's foremost progressive bluegrass export passed that assignment with flying colors.

The HillBenders - "Pinball Wizard" (The Who)

A group that never shies away from pop-inspired hooks, The HillBenders went all-in on reimagining The Who's rock opera Tommy in 2015 by turning it into a "bluegrass Opry." Acoustic instrumentation fills a Pete Townshend-sized hole on "Pinball Wizard" and 22 other tracks throughout what's got to be the most ambitious covers project that blurs the lines between modern bluegrass and classic rock.

Old & In the Way - "Wild Horses" (Rolling Stones)

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As a short-lived yet very active live act, Old & In the Way played a huge role in breaking whatever barriers existed between the bluegrass audience and loyal Grateful Dead followers. After all, grassers David Grisman (mandolin), Peter Rowan (guitar) and Vassar Clements (fiddle) were joined by a banjo player near-and-dear to Deadheads' hearts: Jerry Garcia (with regular Garcia collaborator and bassist John Kahn rounding out the classic lineup).

Here, they interpret a Rolling Stones classic inspired (if not composed) by country-rock pillar Gram Parsons.

Molly Tuttle - "Olympia, WA" (Rancid)

Though she gained attention with her own Rolling Stones cover ("She's a Rainbow"), Molly Tuttle mostly delved into more modern influences on 2020 project ...But I'd Rather Be With You. Highlights range from bluegrass renditions of notable indie rock (The National's "Fake Empire") and pop (Harry Styles' "Sunflower, Vol. 6") songs to this, a folksy reimagining of a street punk manifesto by Rancid.

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Town Mountain - "I'm on Fire" (Bruce Springsteen)

Boundary-stretching band Town Mountain upped its streaming service reach in 2008 with this cover of one of Americana and rock's guiding lights. It gives listeners an idea of what it might sound like if The Boss hailed from further south on the Appalachian Trail than New Jersey.

ShadowGrass - "Rich Girl" (Hall & Oates)

Fiddler Kitty Amaral's stunning vocal performance of this 1977 Hall & Oates hit earns it a spot on our list right above tippy-top country and bluegrass superstars. Yet again, the right act makes a song from outside the bluegrass canon sound nothing like the musical equivalent of a square peg in a round hole.

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ShadowGrass (sometimes styled as Shadow Grass) began in 2014 as a showcase for some of the brightest young talents on the bluegrass festival circuit, such as Amaral and former American Idol standout Presley Barker.

Balsam Range - "If I Needed Someone" (The Beatles)

One of the best all-around bluegrass bands in the 21st century closed its 2019 masterwork Aeonic with this George Harrison-penned, harmony-bathed deep cut from Rubber Soul.

Dr. Marc Pruett's lightning-fast banjo picking gives Balsam Range's version a much heavier rock edge than the Beatles original.

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Lil Smokies - "Rocket Man" (Elton John)

Andy Dunnigan's powerhouse vocal performance and a fast-driving, banjo-led instrumental barrage take a Sir Elton classic in a surprise direction. It's another case of a top-flight modern band making a song rock way harder by reinventing it as a bluegrass jam.

Bruce Hornsby, Ricky Skaggs and John Anderson - "Super Freak" (Rick James)

Many memorable cover songs stick out because on paper, they make absolutely no sense. There's no reason to believe that any of these artists could pull off the most sexed-up Rick James hit-- certainly not with squeaky-clean Ricky Skaggs on lead vocals. Yet it works without coming across as a parody with too short a shelf life for playlist consideration.

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Dierks Bentley, Punch Brothers and Del McCoury - "Pride (In the Name of Love)" (U2)

Here's one of the best pieces of evidence that Dierks Bentley belongs in the same stratosphere as such grassers turned country music stars as Skaggs, Keith Whitley and Carly Pearce. Living legend McCoury and the Punch Brothers --featuring the ace musicianship of banjoist Noam Pikelny and mandolinist Chris Thile-- transformed one of U2's signature hits into a smoking, socially-aware bluegrass tune.

Honorable mention cover songs: "Chop Suey" (System of a Down) by The Dead South and "Take Me Home, Country Roads" by Southern Raised

READ MORE: 15 Songs You Didn't Know Were Written By Chris Stapleton

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