Northern Lights began in the ’70s as a bluegrass bar band called How Banks Fail (strangely appropriate today). After a lot of great years of jamming, they earned their first national recognition in 1986 when they were invited to the Best New Bluegrass Band Contest in Louisville, KY. They finished theird in the event, behind blossoming 15-year-old phenomenon Alison Krauss and Union Station. Within a few years they signed with Flying Fish Records. Northern Light’s three albums on the Flying Fish label all landed on the top 10 of Bluegrass Unlimited’s radio chart. The first, Take You to the Sky, recorded in 1990, won a Boston Music Award in 1991 and included Taylor Armerding’s song “Winterhawk,” which was one of the five finalists for the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) Song of the Year Award. The album boasted a trio of very special fiddling guests: Matt Glaser, Alison Krauss, and Peter Rowan. In 1991, they were also voted “Outstanding Country Act,” at the Boston Music Awards. They were the only bluegrass band nominated.
Can’t Buy Your Way (1992) made it to the number 3 spot on the Bluegrass Unlimited Radio Survey, and also featured a few of the bands’ talented friends (Vassar Clements, Stuart Duncan, and Matt Glaser. As Relix Magazine asserted, Can’t Buy Your Way is “full of vitality and laced with soaring harmonies and precise instrumental work… This is a refreshing album from a band with far-reaching musical vision.” Northern Lights’ 1994 release, Wrong Highway Blues was a critical favorite and spent eight months on Bluegrass Unlimited’s chart, climbing to the number 9 spot.
In 1996, Northern Lights signed with Red House Records and released Living in the City. The album is an eclectic collection that includes gospel tunes, stark relationship songs, shimmering instrumentals, and even a rockin’ John Hiatt cover. With passionate vocals and creative harmonies, brilliant banjo breakdowns, fiddling that is simultaniously sweet and lonesome, the Northern Lights take bluegrass to a whole new level.