The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience – DGBX – Acoustic Disc

by | Feb 8, 2007 | Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews | 0 comments

The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience – DGBX – Acoustic Disc ACD-65, 53:23  *****:

DGBX represents a return to his musical roots for David Grisman, a return to the music that inspired him to take up the mandolin and play music in the first place. It was Bill Monroe and bluegrass music that captured the imagination of a young teenage Grisman in the early 1960s amid the burgeoning folk music scene in New York’s Greenwich Village. He immersed himself in the music and the mandolin playing of Monroe, Jesse McReynolds and Frank Wakefield, eventually becoming the mandolinist for The Kentuckians and even a record producer for Red Allen.

In the late 60s, Grisman became interested in jazz and folk rock. During the 70s, he would create his own style of music, calling it “dawg” music, that combined elements of bluegrass, jazz, swing, Latin and gypsy music. It was in this music that he poured all his creative energy, and in turn inspiring and working with new generations of musicians like Tony Rice, Mike Marshall, Darol Anger, Mark O’Connor, Joe Craven, and Enrique Coria. Grisman is thought of as a musical innovator with deep respect for both old and new music and musicians.

But still, it is a surprise that Grisman would step away from his own dawg music and try his hand at the music of his youth. Before I heard this album, I was curious about how he would approach it. Would it be Dawg-flavored bluegrass? Newgrass? Slick 21st Century bluegrass with ultra high production values, such as Ricky Skaggs has perfected? Well, interestingly enough, it turned out to be extremely conservative and traditional bluegrass. There’s a primitive earthy quality to the vocals (such as those on “Ruben’s Train”) that would sound perfectly at home in the heyday of bluegrass music in the 1950s. There’s a handmade quality to this recording that lacks the polished chrome of contemporary music and more resembles finely hand-carved wood—warm and natural. The connection to folk music that bluegrass has is evident in every phrase. To paraphrase and invert the old Oldsmobile ad, this is your father’s bluegrass.

In forming The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, Grisman recruited top-notch musicians—Keith Little on banjo (tasteful solo on “Engine 143”), Chad Manning on fiddle (nice turn on “The Baltimore Fire” and “Dawgy Mt. Breakdown”), Jim Nunally on guitar (sensitive solos on “Say Won’t You be Mine” and “Dream of the Miner’s Child”), and Samson Grisman on upright bass (a moving solo on “Are You Afraid to Die?”). And of course, David Grisman plays mandolin with equal turns of restraint and zest, sounding very close to Bill Monroe on most of the recording, except for a Jesse McReynolds turn at crosspicking on “Old and in the Way.” Grisman, Little, and Nunally all take turns on the vocals throughout. For those familiar with the Public Radio program Car Talk, their theme song is included here, “Dawgy Mt. Breakdown,” which is one of Grisman’s own compositions.

In short, if you’re looking for traditional bluegrass performed and recorded with perfect authenticity, it doesn’t get any better than DGBX.

TrackList: I’m Rolling On, Baby Blue Eyes, Engine 143, The Baltimore Fire, Rubens Train, Dream of the Miner’s Child, Dawgy Mt. Breakdown, Rock Hearts, Say Won’t You Be Mine, You’ll Be a Lost Ball, Down the Road, Old and in the Way, Are You Afraid to Die?, There Ain’t Nobody Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone

– Hermon Joyner


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