Missy Raines — who’s coming to Leo and Leona’s Tavern and Dancehall on Nov.11 with her acoustic ensemble, The New Hip — is true bluegrass royalty. Seven times the International Bluegrass Music Association has named her Bass Player of the Year.
However, as the name of her band suggests, Raines has been branching out. An excellent singer with a voice that’s been described as smoky and seductive, she leads a band that ventures new territory, such as jazz, folk, country and pop.
Coming to Leo and Leona’s along with Raines will be the rest of her trio — George Jackson on fiddle and bass and Ben Garnett on guitar.
Raines grew up in the tiny unincorporated town of Short Gap, West Virginia, and, despite an impeccable bluegrass background, she confesses to having eclectic tastes. In a statement that might surprise bluegrass purists, Raines said that her musical appetite has expanded after exposure to other bluegrass musicians.
“For a long time all I did was bluegrass, but through that music I found doors to jazz and pop,” Raines said. “I’ve learned to appreciate lots of different kinds of music and I love the challenge of combining influences, which is what some of my biggest heroes — people like Bill Monroe — actually did.”
Best known for her duo projects with the Claire Lynch Band and with two-time IBMA Guitarist of the Year Jim Hurst, Raines has worked (and still does) as a “sideman,” touring with other great bluegrass performers. “That’s really enjoyable because you don’t have to think about other things — you just get in a van and go and that’s great,” Raines said.
For a long time, however, Raines pondered going out on her own as a bandleader.
“I wanted to push myself and see what I could do,” Raines said. “I wanted to sing, but I knew I wasn’t a bluegrass-type of singer. I just knew that I wanted to create some music and maybe write some.”
Her first album — “Inside Out” — drew comparisons to the Cowboy Junkies and David Grisman, while at the same time stretching the boundaries of roots music. The Charleston Gazette described Raines’ vocals as “Amy Winehouse meets Roseanne Cash”.
While The New Hip fit into the brand of music that’s currently called “newgrass,” Raines hasn’t lost her affection for the sounds that purists love.
“I still love traditional bluegrass,” Raines said. “It hits me like nothing else. When I hear that straight-ahead traditional stuff it just sets me on fire. Everything about it is perfect!”
On the other hand, Raines said she believes there’s plenty of room for other types of music.
“If you’re going to narrow bluegrass down to just the older stuff,” Raines said, “then you could make the argument there hasn’t been any real bluegrass since 1946 when Monroe and Scruggs were recording — that doesn’t make any sense!
“I see no reason why we have to label everything anyway,” she continued. “When record stores had to create bins and labels, I think it hurt us more than we realized.”
The band Raines is bringing to Leo and Leona’s has had different configurations over the years. “This is the first year we’re touring as a trio,” she said. “The music is driven by me, but it’s a collaborative setting so if guys bring in material and if it fits the band we use it.”
Currently, Raines is putting the finishing touches on a new album due out early in 2018. The producer is Grammy-winning banjo player Alison Brown, a friend of Raines and someone she’s toured with frequently.
According to Raines, the album will feature collaborations with other prominent musicians. “It won’t be as ‘band-centric’ as our other albums—we’ll have a couple covers and the rest will be originals,” Raines said.