Ever since Beppe Gambetta arrived on American shores from Europe decades ago with little more than his guitar, a digital two-track recorder and a few words of English to track down and record a CD with his flatpicking guitar heroes, there’s been an innate connection between the bluegrass cultures of these two nations. Here in 2015, we now have the latest example, an exceptional CD of flatpicking guitar duets and vocals performed by two masters of the style.
Jim Hurst has won the IBMA Guitar Player Of The Year award twice and is widely known for his superb work with artists Claire Lynch and Missy Raines, not to mention his solo work. Roberto Dalla Vecchia is one of Europe’s top flatpickers, and a frequent instructor at prestigious music events such as the annual Steve Kaufman Acoustic Kamp. After discussing their mutual interest in developing this project, Hurst and Dalla Vecchia made the effort to select, arrange, practice and record ten tunes despite the considerable distance between their homes in America and Italy. Ranging from old-time standards such as “Golden Slippers” and “Poor Hobo/There’s An Old Spinning Wheel” to tunes composed for this project such as Hurst’s elegiac title-track and the darkly beautiful “Moonlight Passage” from Dalla Vecchia, the project revolves around the lush, gorgeous interplay between the two guitars of these master musicians. This CD reveals two players who opt for melodic content and harmonic expression over pure flash and hot licks. The result is often stunning, and both players engage in a thoughtful, carefully chosen interplay of musical messages designed to enhance the overall song.
In addition to the gorgeous guitar work, there are a couple of equally impressive vocal tracks. Roberto leads off on vocals on the haunting Monte Pasubio, a ballad recounting the devastation Italy endured in the First World War. And kudos to Jim for learning Italian to sing harmony here. In turn, Hurst grabs the reins and sings lead on “Back To The Old Smoky Mountains,” which he picked up from a Chet Atkins album from the 1960s. Great tune, and great rendition all around here. For guitarists, the highlight here is probably the striking ending track, a tune Hurst composed during a visit to Italy. Capturing much of the Old World flavor of European guitar music, the two musicians drive this tune like a Ferrari racing around the Formula One track at Monza.
Atlantic Crossing is a great collaboration between two of today’s finest bluegrass musicians. Blending superb flatpicking, strong vocals and a memorable selection of diverse songs, this CD belongs on the playlist of fans of great guitar duets sprinkled with a bit of international inspiration. Bravo! (www.jimhurst.com)DJM