David Royko Psy.D

david@davidroyko.com

Bluegrass Unlimited
March 1996
CD Review
By David Royko


Highlight Review

BLUEGRASS '95
12 GREAT INSTRUMENTAL RECORDINGS

Pinecastle PRC 1045
(compact disc)

Paddy On The Turnpike/Lockwood/Big Sandy River/Temperance Reel/Daley's Reel/Pike County Breakdown/Cattle In The Cane/Goodbye Liza Jane/Whiskey Before Breakfast/Cruisin'/Wildwood Flower/Big Country


    Simply wonderful. If you like hot licks, you should buy this. If you like hot licks that are also creative and sometimes daring, then you must buy this. And if you like creative, sometimes daring hot licks performed flawlessly and with passion and conviction, you...well, you get the idea.

    Bluegrass '95 is a studio group of mostly familiar faces: banjoist Scott Vestal (Livewire, Continental Divide), mandolinist Adam Steffey (Union Station), bassist Barry Bales (Union Station), mandolinist Wayne Benson (IIIrd Tyme Out, Livewire), guitarist Clay Jones (Carolina), and fiddler Aubrey Haynie (Clint Black). The idea is a simple one. Get some talented people together who usually play back-up, turn them loose on a set of old favorites, and let the tape roll. The results of that formula are not always as spectacular as they are here, but it sounds like this group wanted to make the most of the opportunity.

    The one exception to the "old standards" rule is Vestal's "Cruisin'," and it is a mildly progressive number in the Fleck/Trischka vein that makes one hope that Pinecastle will follow this release with one that features original tunes. Of course, that would be more expensive considering the heavier rehearsal time required and the additional studio cost for retakes. But like jazz fans said in the 1960s when comparing Blue Note with other labels like Prestige and Riverside, "What's the difference between Blue Note and the other companies? Two days of rehearsal." The Blue Note founders built a legendary catalog in part because of their willingness to foot the bill for such preparation. With the Bluegrass '95 players, and Vestal's writing, Pinecastle has the potential to create some original masterpieces.

    But Prestige and Riverside produced album after album of great jazz "blowing sessions," which is what Pinecastle has given us with this CD, and anyone looking for an exceptional bluegrass "blowing session" should love it. There is no point in citing details because every track has flashes of brilliance. Listeners familiar with what Vestal, Steffey, Benson, and Jones can do should know that this album finds each of them playing at the top of his game. Anybody unfamiliar with Aubrey Haynie will hear a strong fiddler with a truckload of technique, a fat tone (this guy knows how to apply rosin to his bow), and a quick mind. An added bonus is the sound quality, courtesy of Tim Austin, which allows all of the instruments to cut through the mix with clarity and sparkle. Let us hope that next year, Pinecastle delivers a Bluegrass '96 of comparable quality, and then on to '97, '98, '99,...

(Pinecastle Records, P.O. Box 456, Orlando, FL 32802) DR