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''Pickin''' reimagines pop hits as bluegrass tunes

Queen, Neil Diamond, and others go grazin’ in the ‘grass

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Freddy Mercury and Neil Diamond Illustration by Kirsten Ulve

With bluegrass big business thanks to ”O Brother”, artists like Creed, Neil Diamond, Pink Floyd, and Queen are getting in on the ‘grass revival. Well, not exactly. But they are all subjects of ”Pickin’ on,” a bluegrass tribute-album series that banjo-fies unlikely artists with surprisingly successful results. This year has already brought Appalachian takes on U2, R.E.M., and Elton John, among others. The most recent offerings, ”Pickin’ on Creed” and ”…Pink Floyd” hit stores this fall, and ”Pickin’ on Queen” (the first with vocals) and ”…Neil Diamond” are due next year.

”The idea was to bring bluegrass to people who might not be familiar with it,” says David Haerle, president of CMH Records, the label behind the tributes, which began in 1994 but have picked up considerably in recent years. ”We wanted to record songs that had never or would never be recorded in a red- hot bluegrass instrumental style…. It’s amazing what can be done with compositions totally outside of the realm of bluegrass.” Okay, just please don’t go ”Pickin’ on Britney.”