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Published: 2003/07/28
by Pat Buzby

Life of Sorrow – David Grisman Old Hands – Yonder Mountain String Band and Benny Galloway

Acoustic Disc 53

Frog Pad Records 0103

Taken together, these two discs create a compelling picture of the past,
present and future of bluegrass. David Grisman and the Yonder Mountain crew
address the tradition from opposite angles, but both deliver the homespun
lyrical insights and harder-than-it-looks acoustic momentum that
characterize the genre at its best.

Grisman's hour-long set may have been calculated to be a second purchase for
O Brother soundtrack fans, and he has the goods — the only hitch may
be his choice of a rather off-putting title. However, as Grisman points out
in his liner notes, the upbeat music and the fundamental optimism of the
lyrics (including the frequently-expressed belief that matters will be
resolved "on God's golden shore") balances out the grim tales of songs with
titles like "All The Good Times Are Passed And Gone" and "Unwanted Love."

Dipping into 30 years' worth of recordings, Grisman picks alongside a
veritable who's-who of bluegrass luminaries, from elder statesmen such as
Ralph Stanley and Mac Wiseman to contemporaries including Del McCoury and
John Hartford. A bare-bones, adventurous duo with Hartford ("Doin' My
Time") is a particular highlight, as is Wiseman going back nearly a century
in popular song history for the sentimental "When You And I Were Young

Grisman enriches his package with a well-designed booklet giving historical
info on each of the songs, which range from obscure gems to the
nearly-overexposed "Man of Constant Sorrow" and "Tennessee Waltz." In
addition to being thoroughly entertaining in its own right, Life of
Sorrow will send the listener deeper into the bluegrass realm armed with
some useful knowledge.

In contrast to Grisman's program, Yonder Mountain's latest consists of 13
copyright-2003 songs by Benny Galloway. Though offering nothing radical,
Galloway's work ranges from whimsical ("Sleepy Cowboy") to spooky ("Not Far
Away") and touches all points in between, while mining the familiar subject
matters of romantic ups and downs, religious uplift and the celebration of a
simple life.

Furthermore, while Grisman's collaborators vary with each cut, Yonder
Mountain's four-piece core offers faultlessly sweet harmonies and fleet
picking. Neatly enough, their set of special guests overlaps Grisman's not
at all, and includes a host of fiddle players (with Darol Anger turning in
an especially notable obbligato on "Train Bound For Glory Land"), Jerry
Douglas's dobro and producer Sally Van Meter's resophonic instruments, and
Galloway himself lending mellow low vocals to a few songs.

Both artists offer music that is simple on the surface, but has ample
reserves of chops and soul underneath. I learned from both discs, and that
is a high recommendation.

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