Old & in the Way - That High Lonesome Sound

Old & in the Way
That High Lonesome Sound

First Appeared in The Music Box, April 1998, Volume 5, #4

Written by John Metzger


Old & in the Way's self-titled debut, released in 1975, forever has been regarded quite highly in the bluegrass community, and it helped draw a larger crowd back to this musical style. The band features Jerry Garcia on banjo, David Grisman on mandolin, John Kahn on upright acoustic bass, Vassar Clements on fiddle, and Peter Rowan on guitar. Over the course of the group's brief existence of nine months in 1973, it performed a total of 27 times.

At long last, the follow-up to Old & in the Way's debut has been released in the form of That High Lonesome Sound.  Throughout the set, the quartet of Garcia, Grisman, Rowan, and Clements magically blend their vocals into beautiful three- and four-part harmonies.  Indeed, they layer their voices perfectly, most notably on Bill Monroe's Wicked Path of Sin, the chorus to Catfish John, and Rowan's Lonesome L.A. Cowboy. The quality of the sound on this release is much cleaner than on the group's debut, and this allows the vocals to shine.

It should not be a surprise that each member of Old & in the Way really understands the unique musical style of bluegrass as well as how to play their instruments with amazing dexterity. The band tears through Catfish John, punctuating the song with Grisman's classic mandolin and Garcia's magical banjo. Both Grisman and Garcia also add some wonderful solos to a cover of I Ain't Broke but I'm Badly Bent. In addition, Kahn's bass playing is truly stunning. Just listen to his rapid-fire runs throughout Lost as he adds a jazzy bass line to a bluegrass song.

Even so, it's Clements whose talent leaps from the center of That High Lonesome Sound. Lonesome Fiddle Blues and Orange Blossom Special smoke with energy as Garcia, Grisman, and Clements simultaneously explode the selections by weaving their instruments into a rich tapestry of sound. Clements also tears through a blistering solo on Hard Hearted, which kicks off the disc.

Much like Grisman's other Acoustic Disc endeavors, the liner notes for That High Lonesome Sound are exceptional. They provide extensive background on the group as well as a short history of each song. There are a number of excellent pictures included here as well.  In other words, the material is treated with all of the respect that it rightly deserves. starstarstarstar

That High Lonesome Sound is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright 1998 The Music Box