I think it was way back in 1989, when I attended a concert at a time when David Grisman embarked on a tour with the Del McCoury Band. At the time, I recall it seemed like a startling change of pace for Grisman, whose Dawg music had established itself as a new and influential genre of its own, to immerse himself in the pure bluegrass spirit of Del McCoury and his group.
Since then, many notes have been played and many hairs have been grayed. This live recording finds the two of them paired in a double-disc release that is a pure musical and mutual love fest from start to finish. Twenty songs and tunes are interspersed with many stories about each other, as well as about the likes of Bill Monroe and Bill Keith (to whom they pay tribute with a medley of “Salt Creek,” “Devil’s Dream,” and “Shenandoah Breakdown.”)
The spirit is loose and relaxed and impromptu, and it’s hard to say whether the highlight is hearing Grisman play such a deep set of straight bluegrass or to hear McCoury’s impeccable guitar work in such an intimate setting. And yes, Del even takes a guitar break on “Country Boy Rock And Roll!” The setlist is primarily classic bluegrass, with the sole exceptions of a Dawg original entitled “Del & Dawg,” and a surprisingly effective encore pairing of “Shalom Aleichem” with “Life’s Railway To Heaven.”
One consumer alert: Grisman’s reputation was made on the basis of his picking, not his singing, and some of his vocals are not quite up to the standards one expects from even a live CD. Granted, singing with Del McCoury can simultaneously elevate one’s game and make mere mortal voices pale in comparison. They’re most effective together on a track like “Shackles And Chains,” where McCoury sings lead and shifts to tenor on the chorus.
The spirit of this album is that of celebration and paying tribute to a friendship and musical collaboration that has grown over the decades. Del & Dawg Live! is a joyful commemoration of two of the most influential and talented musicians who are still performing in their prime. (Acoustic Disc, P.O. Box 44143, San Rafael, CA 94913, www.acousticdisc.com.)HK