What's in a name? Plenty, especially if you've just released a solo album and your public identity is linked to a band. Here's a select group of albums from acoustic and bluegrass musicians who, for now at least, are stepping out on their own.
SAM BUSH -- "Late as Usual" (Rounder 0195). Not much of a departure here. Fans of the New Grass Revival (at the Birchmere on Friday and Saturday) will immediately recognize mandolinist and fiddler Bush's work on his first solo album. His fellow Revivalists -- bassist John Cowan, guitarist Pat Flynn and banjoist Bela Fleck -- pop up every so often, and the tunes are typically polished and eclectic. They include a sparkling ensemble piece with Norman and Nancy Blake, a simple yet remarkably evocative arrangement of Little Feat's "Sailin' Shoes," and Bush's swinging, Count Basie-flavored mandolin duet with Jethro Burns.
BELA FLECK -- "Deviation" (Rounder 0196). Returning the favor, Bush and other members of the Revival turn up on Fleck's fourth solo recording and supply much of its rhythmic energy. There's never any doubt, though, that Fleck is calling the shots. By now his virtuosity on the five-string banjo is a given, but that doesn't make his performance on several tunes any less dazzling. Moreover, "Moontides," on which Fleck plays both guitar and a nylon string banjo, is as lovely as anything he's recorded.
TIM O'BRIEN -- "Hard Year Blues" (Flying Fish FF319). As a member of Hot Rize (at the Birchmere next Friday), O'Brien established himself as a triple threat on mandolin, guitar and fiddle. In sharp contrast to the progressive mood that Bush and Fleck create, this relaxed and largely traditional setting suits O'Brien's lonesome tenor voice just fine. It helps, too, that he's enlisted the help of not only Hot Rize but also the Whites, whose gorgeous harmonies grace a couple of tunes, plus fiddler Darrol Anger and dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas.
PETER OSTROUSHKO -- "Sluz Duz Music" (Rounder 0204). Just when folks were getting accustomed to hearing about David Grisman's "dawg" music, along comes this string band veteran with something called "sluz duz." According to mandolinist and fiddler Ostroushko, it means "music that has gone over the edge." Actually, it's a spicy concoction made up mostly of European dances -- everything from polkas and waltzes to Ukrainian hopaks and Irish jigs. With the help of Hot Rize and some other friends, Ostroushko charges the music with plenty of feeling and vitality.
MIKE CRAVER -- "Fishing for Amour" (Flying Fish FF330). If you know this pianist and singer solely through his work with the Red Clay Ramblers, you're missing out on a treat. As a solo artist, Craver is more apt to lean on his background in theater. Here, he surrounds himself with a choice, if rather unlikely, assortment of original material and songs by Gilbert & Sullivan, George M. Cohan and Noel Coward, among others. The result is witty, intimate and enormously appealing cabaret.