Out of thousands of options, if I could teleport back to any bluegrass “double secret” jam at IBMA, a particularly hot session at Winfield or Lexington, or a famous private jam, I’d probably pick the legendary house jams at Lamar Grier’s home. Here strode the high priests of bluegrass like Monroe and the Boys, Roland and Clarence White, and many more taking a night off the job to jam like us mortals.
Just imagine young David Grier there, with all the adolescent red-haired enthusiasm of an Irish Setter puppy, soaking up what great bluegrass will always be, eyes glued to Clarence White’s fingers or studying Big Mon like there’d be a quiz later. Of course, David took that experience and the endless hours in his bedroom trying to understand Clarence’s licks to create a new, wonderfully expressive style of flatpicking guitar that remains refreshingly original.
So it’s no surprise that on his latest release, it sounds a bit like Grier went back to the soul of those great gatherings to re-embrace the holy sounds of his formative years.
Another Nashville Night presents 13 mostly traditional tunes played by a core band of Nashville’s finest, including Stuart Duncan, Dennis Crouch, Casey Campbell and Cory Walker, live in the studio with no overdubs. Understandably, it’s a trifle rough in spots, but that’s kind of the point. This is a record you need to listen to for its up-to-date, yet convincingly traditional, jam-based sound and feel, especially since Covid-19 prevented us from having that wonderful festival experience in 2020.
Filled with creative solos that wind back toward the hollow instead of the high-rise, this is David’s most entertaining and fun recording in a while. Listen to Grier’s second break on “Salt Creek.” It’s classic Grier, clever and dazzling, but always musical and fresh.
Again and again, he takes familiar melodies and makes them his own, only with a touch more restraint than some earlier efforts. Some of Grier’s improvised solos here almost feel like compositions at times, often creating catchy motifs and then cleverly stacking riffs on top of each other to build solos with a distinct start and finish. Listen to his solo on “Foggy Mountain Special,” which resonates with the kind of classic guitar licks and punchy fills pioneered by the likes of Don Reno, Lester Flatt, and George Shuffler.
Sitting in his parents’ living room way past bedtime, David also heard many of the finest singers in bluegrass up close. And echoing the work he did on his last CD, Grier shows he’s really learned to sing, bending and breaking his reedy tenor voice and using some unusual phrasing to great effect. His voice on “Dark Hollow” rings with Roland White’s classic vocal phrasing on the Kentucky Colonels’ standard, showing you don’t always have to have a voice like Russell Moore or Del McCoury to be an effective bluegrass singer.
His bandmates show equal skill and taste, hewing mostly to classic bluegrass lines but occasionally dropping in more modern tones and ideas. Stuart Duncan gets to pull on his Tex Logan cowboy boots as he launches into one of Logan’s signature tunes, “Katy Hill,” at a tempo so fast it might even get you stopped for speeding on I-40 through Music City. Casey Campbell shows why he’s one of the rising stars of mandolin, tossing in great solos on tunes like “Chinquapin Hunting,” and showing his traditional side with Monroe-style licks on “New Five Cents.”
With Another Nashville Night, David Grier continues to expand his range, both on guitar but especially on vocals, into a more polished, approachable style. Not only will his latest outing delight flatpicking guitar freaks like me, it will appeal equally to traditional bluegrass fans wanting an exciting new sound with deep taproots into what makes bluegrass eternal. Highly recommended.
REVIEWED BY David McCarty