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Published: 2002/07/23
by Brad Weiner

"Chambergrass: A Decade of Tunes from the Edges of Bluegrass" – Berline Crary Hickman

Sugar Hill Records 3945

Last October, a small entourage of bluegrass fans cruised into Kansas City
witness the musical magic put on by Old and in the Way alumni Peter Rowan
Vassar Clements along with flatpicking guru Tony Rice. During the second set
slightly tipsy seat neighbor loudly expressed his opinion that Rice was in
fact the finest flatpicker in the world.

Truth be told, Old and in the Way fans typically have a rudimentary
Deadheadian understanding of our precious acoustic heritage and this
was no exception. Don't get me wrong, Tony Rice is amazing at what he does,
but if you crack open the liner notes to his most recent record, Unit of
Measure, he describes many influences, including a guitarist named Dan
Crary. Crart
is only slightly more obscure than those who picked with Garcia, but his
flatpicking prowess far exceeds some of the more popular six string

That being said, it was quite a treat to receive a new record from the
legendary trio called BCH. The acronym describes the three bluegrass wizards
Byron Berline, Dan Crary and Dan Hickman. The fiddle, guitar, banjo trio
compiles the best instrumental tunes from their decade long career into a
beautifully titled record, Chambergrass.

There is no doubt about it, BCH plays beautiful music. Their communication
impeccable, their skills virtuosic. The most impressive feat of BCH is their
ability to keep the rhythm going often times with the absence of bass,
mandolin or in rare occasions, both. Bluegrass can easily wander without a
strong rhythmic presence and all three pick up the pieces to create a
magical sound despite their limited ensemble.

Crary is often responsible for the group's low end. He pauses from the role
frequently to lay down the
cleanest, most impressive guitar solos out there. Berline is a fiddler's
fiddler. He is a master of sounding like he is playing from the porch:
solos flow like Irish reels but never manage to sound like somebody who
the "Moonlight Sonata" before the "Orange Blossom Special".

It wouldn't be proper to describe Hickman's banjo skills when Crary
highlights it so well in the liner notes: "He makes a series of moves on the
instrument that are more perfect, more calculated to make your innards
clutch at the less-is-more,
nothing-could-be-more-perfect-if-everybody-did-that-the-banjo-would-rule the

Crary speaks the truth. Many of the melodies are overlapped by Hickman and
Berline as Crary lays down the solid rhythmic foundation. "Big Dog", for
instance, displays the masterful interplay between the three front men and
late-added bassist Steve Spurgin. The tones, colors and notes are kept in
impossible zone of complete separation and distinct blending.

For those who are skeptical of traditional bluegrass because the vocals are
a little too high and the solos a little too rugged, Chambergrass might be
match for you. It is all instrumental, and the tunes flow like water from
one to the next. The subtitle is quite an apt description: "A Decade of Tune
from the Edges of Bluegrass".

In old photos, the edges can be blurred but in the instance of Chambergrass
BCH has compiled a group of songs that are crisp, clear and wonderful.
Bluegrass is moving in progressive new directions every day, and it is worth
hearing some of the original rule breakers. Chambergrass is well worth
up. It's guaranteed to have you reaching for that dusty Martin in the

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