David Grisman is primarily known as a (perhaps even the) pioneer integrator of jazz into the prog-bluegrass/newgrass/whatever-you-call-it ("Dawg Music" to Grisman) branch of the bluegrass family tree. And with a number of other suspect jazz dabblers (fiddler Vassar Clements, guitarist Tony Rice, and banjo picker Tony Trischka, for instance) on hand, one might expect The David Grisman Rounder Album (later released as The Rounder Compact Disc) to be a Grappelli-sounding crossbreed experiment in line with Grisman's longstanding quintet. Yet, despite some string-slingin', fancy-licked solos, the album is really a true-blue bluegrass record. Why, this record has enough gospel harmonies, Bill Monroe songs, stories of money lost on spend-thriftin' women, string sawin', and other neat-sounding contractions to keep even your most die-hard hillbilly warm as a mug of Grandpappy's moonshine on a cold Kentucky night. The tricky thing, the "how'd he do that?" part, is that in addition to its unabashed down-home country feel, this album is anything but traditional. Instrumentals like "Waiting on Vassar," "Op. 38," and "Boston Boy" integrate a complex network of orchestral voicings, solos, and interactive group play, and throughout the album solos by hotshots like Clements, Rice, Jerry Douglas, and Grisman himself betray more than a passing interest in other styles of improvisation. In the coming years, the experimental wings of bluegrass would begin to incorporate electric instruments and more overtly bear the influence of jazz and rock. But The David Grisman Rounder Album is some of the earliest evidence that bluegrass can be progressive without sacrificing any of its institutional twang.
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AllMusic Review by John Uhl