David Grisman and his Quintet passed through the Missoula Valley last year to play the University Theatre, welcomed by an event that was overlooked by a lot of fans: a rainbow arcing from Mount Sentinel to the top of Mount Jumbo. In fact, if memory serves, it was a double rainbow. My inner groovyness couldn’t help but ask, “Guess who’s here?” (You may know who I was thinking about). This isn’t where statements will be made of Grisman’s music “stretching beyond the borders of bluegrass to incorporate worldly music like a rainbow of many colors.” No, the rainbows looked cool and that’s about it.
Dave and his solidly blue ribbon quintet humbly offer another release from Grisman’s own Acoustic Disc label, titled Dawgnation. And yes, he does stretch beyond bluegrass to incorporate worldly music and all that, but without the artsy artifice. Grisman has great taste, displaying the influences of Astor Piazzolla, Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli, Tito Puente and, of course, Bill Monroe, while standing as a similarly undisputed master and innovator of his instrument. Dawgnation takes a fine trip through Latino-styled works fit for traditional dance, stretching from the Rio Grande to South American tango workouts. Yet it also encompasses pioneering fretwork and technique of 1940s–50s jazz performers. Grisman’s success in transcending bluegrass involves the combination of the traditional with the adventurous and unpredictable. Chemistry abounds with his current lineup of musicians (the same steady crew from the University Theatre gig): guitarist Enrique Coria, multi-instrumentalist Joe Crave, Jim Kerwin on the bass and flutist Matt Eakle, each skilled in a wide array of musical genres who make this Quintet tick just so. The tunes are all Grisman instrumental originals and are boundless in pleasing the child or the cynic of the family. Great offerings like the Samba-infested “Mellow Mang,” a bit of bluegrass with “Twin Town” or the sneaky “Dawg After Dark.” Trust me, Grisman fans will be smitten. With the resurgence of bluegrass through the film (and soundtrack) O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?, there’s a lot of attention being paid to the old traditions of finger picking. Don’t be surprised if some of this innovative jamboree starts to make strong headway as well. Dawgnation is a damn good start for those willing to wander off the beaten path. In fact, I predict “summer soundtrack” written all over this release, fitting in with any mood, rain or shine, day or night. Use Dawgnation as your roadmap, and the rest of the adventure is up to you.
Dust Sucker, Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band (Milksafe)
Picking the perfect release by Captain Beefheart is a real pain in the ass. Honestly, where do you start? Everyone and their mother will forever say Trout Mask Replica is the undisputed masterpiece from his archive; it’s also the most bent and technically difficult listen. Said to have been written in 46 hours, the compositions certainly set a standard that has no competitors, but a first-time listener might not want to start there. I personally connected with The Captain on his Spotlight Kid/Clear Spot releases, though a purist might state that those two releases are a bit more normal (so to speak). Should the slew of Beefheart releases from the past few years of Unreleased/Outtakes be trusted? Truthfully, the bulk of the unreleased stuff hold fine value and is a great addition to the collection, but as the man himself would tell you, trust no one.
Captain Beefheart, a.k.a. Don Van Vliet, has been out of the music loop for 20 solid years, making a nice living from his art and being very reluctant to open the vault of his extras. He wasn’t very happy about the Grow Fins trilogy put out by Table of Elements, nor the lion’s share of European Beefheart rarities. He must have had a change of heart in allowing UK company Milksafe to officially release a set of tapes from his own collection, representing possibly the most sought-after sessions, the 1975/76 Bat Chain Puller recordings. The story goes that, by mid-’70s, Beefheart had strayed from his critically acclaimed dementia into critically disdained dementia. Abandoning the original Magic Band, he pulled together a new group of weirdoes and captured it in all its glory on Ampex reel-to-reel. His then-recording company wasn’t too pleased and the final mixes were shelved, though several songs worked their way into his last three releases: “Shiny Beast,” “Doc at the Radar Station,” and “Ice Cream for Crow.”
A newly re-mastered and replete version, titled Dust Sucker, captures these lost cultural wanderings, including eight extra tracks from Van Vliet’s personal vault, both live and studio. Beefheart’s exclusive brand of tangled-web blues and peyote lyrics are back on track from the days of residence on Zappa’s Straight label. Still way ahead of its time, I cannot possibly fathom any other artist that comes close (perhaps Tom Waits to a certain extent), nor is there anyone who matches it in terms of avant blues or twisted arrangements. Like the best of musicians and artists, Beefheart is from another planet. No genius of his caliber is of this earth and this disc is just the proof needed to back up that statement.