Desert Night Music
DN 848

   It’s well known that mandolin and guitar duets played a lively role in homegrown entertainment and later shaped the sound of bluegrass and early country music (as witness the Monroe Brothers, the Blue Sky Boys, and others). In recent years, David Grisman has celebrated this wonderful sound in albums with Tony Rice, Martin Taylor, and others. Now, Tim May (guitar and vocals) and Steve Smith (mandolin, octave mandolin, and vocals) are also honoring this tradition—and even advancing it.

   They bring impressive backgrounds to their marvelous self-titled outing. Based in Nashville, May had been half of the folk duo Carpenter & May and toured with John Cowan, Patty Loveless, and Eddie Rabbitt. He also played solo guitar on Charlie Daniels’ 2005 Grammy-nominated album I’ll Fly Away. Smith lives in Las Cruces, N.M. He’s done session work for more than thirty albums, including projects headed by Tim O’Brien, Jim Hurst, and Alan Munde.  They met on the staff of Camp Bluegrass in Levelland, TX.

   At seven tracks, it’s short, but it’s very, very sweet. There’s pleasing variety, kicking off with “I Know What It Means to be Lonesome” and progressing through impressive originals by Smith and May. Even the decidedly non-bluegrass/old-time material (notably the Irving Berlin pop classic “Blue Skies” and The Beatles’ “Let It Be”) has a traditional feeling that seems almost effortlessly natural.

   The vocals are very enjoyable, and I can’t say enough good things about the tone, taste, and touch of the instrumental work. It’s captured by an outstanding production that captures their quite inventive picking. It reminds me of Double Time, Bela Fleck’s fascinating 1984 album of duos with guest pickers: The additional meaning to that album’s title was that Fleck ran the recording tape at double speed to pick up more sound information, giving fullness to the banjo and each second instrument that didn’t need bass or other support. I don’t know the technical aspects of May and Smith’s project, but it’s just as successful. So kudos to Steve Smith, who also did the main engineering and mixing that helped realize such rich audio and such a rewarding CD. (www.desertnight.com)RDS

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