Mandolin Duets, Vol. 1 is one of the most important bluegrass mandolin recordings since David Grisman’s landmark Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza two-CD set. Conceived by fourth-generation bluegrass musician Casey Campbell, who literally took his first steps in Bill Monroe’s dressing room backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, the CD captures the essential soul of bluegrass mandolin in its simplest form: two great players in a recording studio with no supporting musicians and no overdubs. The result isn’t a musical curiosity; it’s an historic deep dive into the mandolin styles of 11 bluegrass mandolin greats including Jesse McReynolds, Bobby Osborne, Buck White, David Grisman, Sam Bush, Mike Compton, and Ronnie McCoury.
Campbell, who tours with Bryan Sutton and has worked with numerous other bluegrass stars, tells me he was inspired to create this project as a way to keep alive the beating heart of bluegrass mandolin, and his conviction and musical integrity shine here. So instead of asking a bluegrass legend like Jesse McReynolds to play a song incorporating his trademark cross-picking style, Campbell let each artist have full artistic control over what they recorded. McReynolds, who still performs and sounds great at age 88, renders up an original called “Ode To Bill Monroe” that recalls the master’s straight-from-the-still, blues-influenced playing. Osborne, who’s out with a new CD at an age when most people can hardly get out of bed, plays “Cherokee Lady,” one of his most popular originals. Other artists go deep into their own catalogs here, like Tim O’Brien’s chilling “The High Road” and Mike Compton’s “Monroebilia.” Strong arrangements let Campbell support his mandolin heroes on rhythm and then launch into his own impressive solos, like his pairing with Ricky Skaggs on “Amanda Jewell.”
Mandolin Duets, Vol 1. is a must-hear CD for anyone who loves bluegrass mandolin. Full disclosure: I did some PR work for Casey to help him launch this project, yet it doesn’t change the fact that this is a terrific and historically important work from one of today’s most talented young bluegrass stars. (www.caseycampbell.org)DJM