In the 90s few artists did more to make the mullet synonymous with country music than Joe Diffie
—and he was as guilty as anyone of popularizing jacked-up honky-tonk weighted down by the leaden thud of commercial rock. But before scoring hits with hokum such as “John Deere Green
,” he was almost as successful making country that bore traces of classic honky-tonk, at a time when they were in short supply. He’s also got harmony singing in his blood: in his native Oklahoma in the 80s, he played in a bluegrass band called Special Edition, and after moving to Nashville later that decade, he kept company with many of the genre’s best. So in 2010, when he released Homecoming: The Bluegrass Album
(Rounder), it wasn’t just faux-rootsy posturing—supported by A-list talent such as fiddler Aubrey Haynie, Dobro player Rob Ickes, and guitarist Bryan Sutton, Diffie makes plain that he still knows how to sing bluegrass. Like fellow stars Ricky Skaggs, Dolly Parton, and Patty Loveless, all of whom turned (or returned) to bluegrass after being shut out by mainstream Nashville, Diffie might seem like a carpetbagger, but his music says otherwise. —Peter Margasak Tracy Lawrence headlines; John Michael Montgomery, Joe Diffie, and Makena Hartlin Band open.