Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 1999, Volume 6, #7
Written by John Metzger
It was nearly ten years ago when the seeds for this project first planted themselves in the mind of Ronnie McCoury. As a third-generation mandolin player, McCoury wanted to gather together in one place as many of the great pickers as he could find to make a recording.
It only made sense for McCoury to turn to David Grisman and his Acoustic Disc label to help make his dream a reality. After all, Grisman has always taken his role in the music business very seriously. He views himself not only as a musician — and he's a damn good one at that — but also as an ambassador and educator in regards to all things related to bluegrass music and, more specifically, the mandolin. Running his own label allows Grisman to maintain his artistic freedom while making it all the more possible for him to preach his musical gospel. So, it was with great enthusiasm that he embraced McCoury's project.
What a sight it must have been when so many fine pickers descended upon Nashville for four days in January 1998. Together, the Hall of Fame ensemble — which included Grisman, McCoury, Frank Wakefield, Bobby Osborne, Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs, Buck White, and Jesse McReynolds — spanned five truly amazing decades of bluegrass music. Del McCoury was also present at the sessions and added his own brand of acoustic rhythm guitar to many of the selections that encompass Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza.
Over the course of the 34 songs contained on this set, the players deliver a history lesson about bluegrass music through a variety formats that include solos, duets, trios, and octets. The tracks are delivered with a magic and beauty that would appeal to just about everyone from students of the mandolin to connoisseurs looking for a thoroughly enjoyable musical experience. It's not so much what songs are played — nearly half are traditional or Bill Monroe compositions — but how they are played. Each is performed with impeccable accuracy and immeasurable emotion, from the resplendent rendition of Wayfaring Stranger to the jubilant Boston Boy.
In addition, Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza is packaged with Grisman's typical flair for classy releases. An extensive booklet is enclosed with the set that includes photos, background information on all of the performers, anecdotes on each song, and overviews of both bluegrass music and this project. For those who don't wish to read the booklet, many of the tracks do include short narratives of their own. In describing this release, Ronnie McCoury stated that he wanted to make an album that could stand as an introductory lesson to bluegrass mandolin music. Indeed, that is exactly what he and Grisman have done, and it works on two levels. Students can finely scrutinize every nuance and detail in the styles and techniques of the performers on this collection. Meanwhile, those just looking for a more casual experience can just sit back and enjoy!
Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 1999 The Music Box