David Grisman & Sam Bush - Hold On, We're Strummin
Reviewed by David McCarty
The only comment anyone who knows these two musicians is likely to have after hearing this excellent recording is, "What took them so long?" Bush and Grisman have been, er, fretting about recording together for something like 20 years, but never made it happen until now.
It was more than worth the wait. Both men, acknowledged modern masters of the mandolin, bring every bit of their skill and experience to the table here, playing mandolin, slide mandolin, octave mandola, mandocello, fiddle, banjo, bass guitar, mandola and mandolin-banjo collectively over the 16 listed (and one "hidden" track) on this session recorded at Grisman's renowned private studio in Marin County.
This is a true collaboration, with Bush and Grisman co-writing 11 of the tunes and working out the arrangements together. Some tunes, like Hartford's Real, seem to have more of a "Grismanesque" feel, while the bouncy Swamp Thing feels more like a Bush tune to me.
The non-original pieces are all highly creative and well chosen, such as the clever Old Time Medley with Bush on fiddle and Grisman showing his surprisingly good old-time banjo playing.
Ralph's Banjo Special, one of Bush's high-energy tunes, rockets out of the stereo like an F-16 on full afterburner. Sam's opening solo just about rips the frets out of his beloved Hoss, followed by one of the hottest bluegrass-inspired solos in years by the Dawg.
The supporting cast couldn't be more appropriate, with DGQ bassist Jim Kerwin filling the bottom end with a taut, grounded foundation, and guitarists Dimitri Vandellos and Enrique Coria adding some very effective Latin/Gypsy jazz playing to complement the south-of-the-border tunes.
On the faster, bluegrass material, Jack Lawrence shows why he's earned the best flatpicking job in the world backing up Doc Watson, and West Coast legend Jim Nunally simply roars through Ralph's Banjo Special on his solo and lays down some of the best rhythm guitar this side of Tony Rice.
Picking a highlight off this disc is like choosing your favorite mandolin at Loarfest at IBMA. Everyone's going to have his or her own top picks.
The duo's revision of the Jethro Burns classic 'Cept Old Bill showcases not only their great mastery of mandolin styles, but also the fun and camaraderie Bush and Grisman must have felt making this record. And of course, Bush's funk-laden mandocello line on Sam and Dave's immortal Hold On I'm Comin' would make Motown house bassist James Jamerson sit up and cry mercy, mercy, mercy.
In the end, all that really matters is that finally we have the chance to hear what two of the best musicians on the planet can do in tandem. Here's hoping it won't be another 20 years before we get another opportunity like this.
Song List: Hartford's Real, Swamp Thing, Intimo, Jamgrass 741, Sea Breeze, Old Time Medley, Weeping Mandolin Waltz, Arachnid Stomp, Crusher and Hoss, The Old South, Mando Space, Ralph's Banjo Special, 'Cept Old Bill, Rhythm Twins, Dan'l Boone, Hold on, I'm Comin'
Acoustic Disc ACD-54, PO Box 4143
San Rafael, CA 94913, 1-800-221-DISC