If IBMA had an award for cutest and most original cover design, Ivan Rosenberg should start preparing his acceptance speech now. The clay model figurines of the musicians (and Rosenberg’s instrument of choice, the resonator guitar) are brilliant, and even more impressive upon finding they were the creations of Rosenberg himself.
Fortunately, the charms of this ten-track CD don’t stop once the music starts playing. A collection of Rosenberg’s original bluegrass tunes, they display a musical inspiration that draws from the pioneers of his instrument, but also manage to bring in elements from beyond. He is supported here by the Slocan Ramblers, augmented by fiddlers Annie Staninec and John Kael.
The result plays like a tight ensemble recording, with all members getting generous amounts of featured time. Banjoist Frank Evans emerges as a standout, deftly switching back and forth from bluegrass banjo to clawhammer style, and connecting the dots between the disparate musical traditions that inspire the klezmer-influenced “Clinch Mountain Bar Mitzvah.” Bassist Alistair Whitehead gets a chance to add a low-end wrinkle on the arrangement of the album’s opening track “Z Clampett,” while the stately tune called “The Pearloid Gates” sounds like something with which Bashful Brother Oswald Kirby might have serenaded Roy Acuff. The lovely “New Year’s Waltz” also effectively showcases the gentler side of the instrument.
However, most of the recording features relatively straight-ahead tunes with twists in the timing, as well as in the titles, as in “Aardvarked” and “Old Vatseznoots.” More than just a compositional showcase, however, The Littlest Dobro is a long overdue chance for Rosenberg to have his fine musicianship on display for a broader audience. Originally a West Coast player who served an early stint with Chris Stuart & Backcountry before moving to his current home in Ontario, Canada, he is most deserving of being heard both as a composer and a resonator guitarist. (www.ivanrosenberg.com)HK