Thursday, September 11, 2003
Sam Bush and David Grisman
Hold On, We're Strummin'
Sam Bush and David Grisman have always been characterized as consummate rhythm players on their antiquated mandolins. They have a peerless ability to prod a piece of music, which could be a rather cordial way of contending they aren't master soloists.
In comparison to Mike Marshall and Chris Thile's Into the Cauldron, a mandolin duet album that showcased Marshall and Thile's virtuosity as much as their inexorable diversity, neither Bush nor Grisman has the speed or the lissome fretwork to match them.
Nevertheless, on Hold On, We're Strummin' Bush and Grisman make up for any lack of talent by attaching themselves to the groove. They rock. They regularly send their acoustic instruments into electrified frenzies. Where Marshall and Thile sound stifled in a classical portamento, Bush and Grisman rollick through jovial chord changes.
The duo sound like an acoustic version of the Allman Brothers on Swamp Thing. They place a stake in jam-band territory with the meandering "Jamgrass 741," but in locking into a given set of chord changes, as on the sprightly Latin concepts of "Intimo" or the breezy jazz of "Sea Breeze," the two find their niche: a slow and subtle framework to poke and feel their way through.
Yonder Mountain String Band With Benny Galloway
For all of its considerable talents, this Colorado-based jamgrass quartet seemed to hit something of a rut when it came to songwriting lately. Each of the members had at least one song about a sheriff and one about being on the road. But while the band relies heavily on extended jamming in most of its live shows, Yonder Mountain String Band has another side that leans towards more traditional music. This side has been explored when they all gather around one microphone for an encore, or on the rare night at a folk club instead of a bar. To explore this side further, and to step outside of the songwriting challenges they faced, the band enlisted the help of Benny Galloway.
While some fans of the band may take a few listens to get used to Galloway's voice on a Yonder Mountain record, it is a rough-hewn gem with its own character. The tracks range from barn-burners like "Hill Country Girl" and "Pride Of Alabama" to the much gentler gospel of "Behold, The Rock Of Ages," and the swing of "Deep Pockets." Acoustic luminaries Tim O'Brien, Jerry Douglass, and Casey Driessen also contribute-making it a truly worthwhile purchase.
Down Upon the Suwannee River
Hot Tomato Records
Little Feat's Down Upon the Suwannee River sounds far more lithe, far more improvisationally spurred, than in their previously revered incarnations. They extricate themselves from a gamut of rather sinuous improvisational moments, best presented on the 27 minute version of "Dixie Chicken." The band commences with Keith Jarrett piano gymnastics and touch upon various classical concepts before concluding with their distinguishable crawfish cooking sound.
And with this exploratory approach, the well-known Little Feat originals included in this two-CD set sound nothing like they did in the band's mid '70s heyday. "All that You Dream" and "Fat Man in the Bathtub," for example, suddenly have far more puissance. When the band begins to fall into a mundane groove, they quickly contort, and change, but they never noodle.
Fans use the watershed 1978 live recording Waiting for Columbus as a benchmark for comparing all Little Feat releases. Down Upon the Suwannee River might be better in its jamming glory. Seriously.