Vassar Clements

Grass Routes

Rounder, 1991

Vassar Clements is one of the great bluegrass sidemen of all time. He started out with Bill Monroe, was one of the real highlights of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" album, and has been involved in all-star projects from Hillbilly Jazz to Old & In The Way. Along the way he recorded jazz with Stefan Grappelli and rock and country with numerous bands as a session player. So although we have Clements here fronting an all-bluegrass session, you can bet it's not tradition-bound.

The four vocal numbers are the most conventional numbers here, along with the closing take on "Turkey in the Straw". Two of the songs are sung by Clements, whose husky voice is quite serviceable and in fact sounds just right for "Come on Home". The other two vocals, "Fiddlin' Will" and "Flame of Love", are provided by Jim and Jesse, who also wrote the songs. The remainder of the 12 tracks are instrumentals, 6 out of 7 written by Clements. It's on these tunes that Vassar's jazz experience comes out -- they're definitely out of the fiddle tune tradition, but feature chromatic passages and jazzy chord progressions. The other players are well up to the challenge - David Grier sounds especially good, playing guitar in a Tony Rice-ish style. Jesse McReynolds contributes his unique mandolin style, J.D. Crowe handles the banjo chores and Roy Huskey Jr. shows once again what a tasteful bass player he is.

My biggest complaint about this album is how short it is -- the 12 tracks clock in at right about 33 minutes total, all but 2 tracks less than 3 minutes each. In some ways, the album may be a little too restrained -- I'd love to hear this group of players cut loose a little more. Still, it's a fine set showing off some interesting tunes and hot fiddling from Vassar.

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