David Grisman has become the mandolin king of collaborations. The recent output from his Acoustic Disc label has presented him in various historical contexts with the likes of Tony Rice, Doc Watson, and his original David Grisman Quintet. While his latest release with Dawg Trio begins with a spoken introduction and a tune dedication to Jerry Garcia for Grisman’s “Spud Boy,” his latest musical foil Danny Barnes pushes him forward into new musical adventures.
Joined by his son and bassist Samson Grisman as an equal partner, Dawg and Barnes roam through an impressive variety of material. For those who might know Barnes mainly through his work with the Bad Livers and Thee Old Codgers, it’s impressive how well he fits into the stylistic niche of David Grisman’s instrumental tunes. While he toggles back and forth from guitar to bluegrass-style and clawhammer style, it’s his progressive approach to the old-time style of picking that puts a creative charge into tunes such as “Old Timey Art.”
While this is still primarily a Grisman recording, with nine of the fourteen tracks being Grisman originals, it’s nonetheless an interesting point of departure when Barnes takes the vocal lead on some of his charmingly quirky originals such as “Money Moves Up” and “Little Bitty Town.” He sings with a quiet authenticity, and the band gels nicely behind him. The sole flaw here might be the vocal harmonies, which are closer to rough and loose on Samson’s otherwise touching cover of John Hartford’s “No End Of Love” and Barnes’ fine take on the closing track, “It’s A Long, Long Way To The Top Of The World.”
Unsurprisingly, variety abounds—from the ragtime vibe of “Dawg On A String” to the jazz balladry of “Big Blue” to the lovely “Zadeh’s Waltz,” on which the bass unconventionally, but effectively carries the melody. It’s refreshing to hear the senior Grisman inspired by new bandmates and to hear Barnes flex his always impressive and eclectic chops. Here’s hoping the Dawg Trio gets to grow together on more projects. (Acoustic Disc, P.O. Box 4143, San Rafael, CA 94913, www.acousticdisc.com.)HK