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Published: 2002/01/23
by Brad Weiner

Upstairs At Charlie’s – Tom Corbett

Round Hole Records 41261

The concept of a "jamband" is an area so gray it is often difficult to
understand why particular albums land in my possession. This is very much
case with the recent release by Tom Corbett. Upstairs at Charlie’s is
easy-going, always-flowing bluegrass structure which accomplishes everything
in tidy three-minute bricks.

I will be honest and say that I have never heard of Corbett, a mandolin
master who grew up listening to both Bill Monroe and David Grisman. His
rings through without the typical strain of the high and lonesome. The album
has a mellowness which is refreshing since bluegrass keeps getting faster in
tempo and louder in dynamic. Corbett's music would probably not sound very
good in the smoky bars to which we are accustomed.

Upstairs at Charlie’s features a backup band that often outdoes the album's namesake. Herb Pedersen lends his banjo mastery and beautiful voice to several tracks. The dobro player, Greg Leisz, pulls off some insane stunts on the twangy resophonic which in my opinion, are the best solos on the disc. One of the great mysteries is that of the bass player named Bill Bryson. As an avid reader, I am dying to know whether it is the same Bryson who writes hilarious travel novels from around the globe. If this is the case, I like his writing more than his bass playing. Of course, this isn't an insult to the instrumentalist who adds a noteworthy backbone to the music, especially on the jazzier songs.

The tunes range in style from country ballads to Dawg-like swing tunes. Some
of them pull off the genre with grace like the bluesy morning-after tune
Cloudy Blues" while others stay on the beaten path like "Lonesome Joe From
Kokomo" which not only has a simplistic feel, but lyrics so cheesy they
be written off to the bluegrass charm. Finally, the title track – "Upstairs
Charlie's" – is a near replica of the String Cheese Incident classic "Lester
Had a
Coconut". The major key calypso progression is not wholly SCI's, but jamband
fans will notice the similarities to the point of thinking it's a cover. To
Corbett's credit, he quickly abandons the polyrhythmic feel for a swinging,
uptempo number with obvious Grisman influence.

Bluegrass is coming back. The Americana roots traditions of old tyme and
bluegrass are constantly being reinvented by artists of both new and old.
undeniable truth with bluegrass is that no matter how many musicians attempt
to play it, there is always a noticeable chasm between those who play it
and those who just play it. Tom Corbett uses the styles of the past and
augments them with his own flavor. Upstairs at Charlie’s is a well
mixture of acoustic music which brings the listener closer to the genre, but
never goes too far out of its way to compete with the masters.

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