John Sebastian / David Grisman - Satisfied

John Sebastian / David Grisman

(Acoustic Disc)

First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2007, Volume 14, #11

Written by Douglas Heselgrave

Tue November 27, 2007, 06:40 AM CST


Both David Grisman and John Sebastian are fabulous performers with long histories in the music business. Over the past three or four decades, they each have recorded some of the finest acoustic music that one ever could hope to hear. The two men have been friends since the early 1960s, and each had his first experience in the recording studio working with the Even Dozen Jug Band. In 2005, Grisman and Sebastian reunited for a benefit concert, and they had such a good time playing together that they decided to try their hand at an album when their schedules allowed. Satisfied, a collection of traditional songs and original compositions is the result of their collaboration. Unfortunately, although there are many sublime moments on the endeavor, it ultimately isnít as good as one would have hoped.

It is hard to conceive of attaching the word "mediocre" to anything that Grisman has recorded. Over the course of his career, he has redefined the role of the mandolin and opened up worlds of possibilities that never before had existed for the instrument. Some of his classic recordings with the David Grisman Quintet occupy the highest pinnacle of acoustic jazz composition and instrumental virtuosity. Like his infrequent collaborator Stephane Grappelli, the late French violinist, Grisman has created a sound on his instrument that is undeniably his own. A few notes from his mandolin are all that an astute listener needs to hear in order to recognize Grismanís trademark picking style.

Itís hard to pinpoint exactly where Satisfiedís shortcomings lie. Like every other album to be released on Grismanís label Acoustic Disc, it is beautifully recorded. When it is heard on a good stereo, the tone, the clarity, and the separation of the instruments are things at which to marvel. Grisman has such reverence for music, and he is so painstaking about his recording process that it often is easy to get lost in the perfection of the overall sound and miss the problems that exist in his execution. Sebastian and Grisman are comfortable together, and the good time that they obviously had while recording Satisfied is palpable. Each track on the set exudes a sense of joy and ease. Yet, it also feels as if neither of them broke a sweat during the making of the set. Their playing is so fluid and natural that one senses that the album almost recorded itself.

Many great musicians have said that music flows through them more than it is created by them. In other words, they act as conduits for the sounds of the spheres, and they claim that all they are responsible for doing is opening themselves up to the process. This may be the case with Satisfied. Without a doubt, there is a lot to enjoy on the disc. However, one canít help but to wish that Sebastian and Grisman had asked themselves some more challenging questions about which songs to tackle.

Satisfiedís instrumental tracks are all gorgeous and ethereal, but how many versions of Dawgís Waltz does Grisman feel he needs to record? Do the versions of Mississippi John Hurtís standards, such as Iím Satisfied and Coffee Blues, shed any new light on the songs, or, for that matter, do they add anything to Hurtís, Sebastianís, or Grismanís legacies? How many recordings of John Henry need to appear before the world yells, "Enough?" There really should be a moratorium placed on the release of any more versions of this tune until someone finds something new to say about it.

Understandably, Sebastian and Grisman may believe that they have nothing to prove to anyone. Collectively, their output speaks of a lifetime of hard work, and at this point, they might have no inclination whatsoever to stretch beyond their safety zones. In the end, Satisfied is nothing more than a comfortable disc. Like an old armchair that has long since changed its contours to fit the body of the person who always sits in it, Satisfied is well worn and predictable. It is benign rather than challenging. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and many people certainly will enjoy the outing. Itís just that, ultimately, Satisfied ó much as its title suggests ó says more about how Sebastian and Grisman feel about life, the world, and their place within it than it does about the experience of the listeners who hear it. starstarstar

Satisfied is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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