The musical traditions of the Ukraine are fused with an aural reflection of America's Midwest by mandolin and fiddle player Peter Ostroushko. Best known for his regular appearances on National Public Radio show A Prairie Home Companion, Ostroushko (pronounced: Oh-STREW-shko) has consistently achieved high standards with his solo recordings and duo albums with Minnesota-based acoustic guitarist Dean Magraw. Equally skillful on fiddle and mandolin, Ostroushko is, according to flatpicking guitar wiz Norman Blake, "the next Jethro Burns and Johnny Gimble rolled into one."
Ostroushko has been playing music most of his life. As the son of Ukrainian immigrants Wasyl and Katerina Ostroushko, Ostroushko grew up listening to his father, a shoemaker, playing traditional songs of his homeland on guitar and mandolin. Although he appeared on A Prairie Home Companion in 1974, the first year that the show was broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio, Ostroushko didn't become a full-time cast member until the show went national in 1980. During the six years in between, Ostroushko worked as a session musician in Nashville. In addition to working on albums by Jethro Burns, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Chet Atkins, and Johnny Gimble, Ostroushko played mandolin, though uncredited, on the tune "If You See Her, Say Hello" from Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks album. Ostroushko also toured with Robin & Linda Williams and Norman & Nancy Blake.
Sluz Duz Music, Ostroushko's debut solo album, was released in 1982. The title referred to Ostroushko's description of his music, based on the Ukrainian words meaning "over the edge" or "off his rocker." Ostroushko's second effort, Down the Streets of My Neighborhood, released in 1986, included a medley of Ukrainian songs and an interpretation of Hank Williams' "Hey, Good Lookin'" sung in Ukrainian. Ostroushko's albums have featured an illustrious list of supportive musicians. The Mando Boys, Ostroushko's third album, released in late 1986, featured a fez-wearing group that began when Ostroushko formed the Lake Woebegone Municipal Mandolin Orchestra for a tour with Garrison Keillor and the cast of A Prairie Home Companion. The same year, Ostroushko recorded First Generation with concertina player Bertram Levy.
Ostroushko's next album, Buddies of Swing, released in 1987, was a jazz-tinged collaboration with Jethro Burns (mandolin), Johnny Gimble (fiddle), Butch Thompson (piano), Dean Magraw (guitar), and Prudence Johnson (vocals). After recording the solo album Blue Mesa, released in 1989, with guest appearances by Norman & Nancy Blake, Daithi Sproule, and Magraw, Ostroushko and Magraw collaborated on the album Duo, released in 1991. Ostroushko's most successful recording, Heart of the Heartland, released in 1995, was an all-instrumental exploration of the Midwest. In addition to receiving a NAIRD award as "best independently released folk instrumental album," the album was featured on Ken Burns' PBS documentary Lewis and Clark. The following year, Ostroushko released Pilgrims on the Heart Road, which he described in the liner notes as "a collection of songs that are a companion piece to Heart of the Heartland." Sacred Heart followed in 2000.
Ostroushko maintained a prolific release schedule after the turn of the millennium, with a number of albums issued by the Red House label, including 2002's Meeting on Southern Soil (a duo recording with Norman Blake) as well as Coming Down from Red Lodge (2003), the public television series original score Minnesota: A History of the Land and The Heartland Holiday Concert (both 2005), Postcards (2006), and When the Last Morning Glory Blooms (2010). He has also worked closely with the Children's Theater in Minnesota and the ACT Theater, and one of his most ambitious projects was an appearance as lead ukulele player with the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra. ~ Craig Harris
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