Mike Auldridge

Blues and Bluegrass

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Another winner from dobro master Mike Auldridge, this production must have seemed like a Hollywood blockbuster compared to the average Takoma release, many of them solo guitar efforts. Even on its own terms, this album suffered from the drawbacks of the masterpiece mentality and the carte blanche budget, at least on relative terms. Auldridge again juggles several different ensemble combinations, the challenge being to create an easily flowing and dramatically coherent set of pieces, as he had done so gracefully on the 1972 set simply entitled Dobro. But here, the director has earned a bigger trailer based on the huge success of this previous release. Although instrumentals are once again the main fare, there is more of a shot taken at doing vocal tracks, with several heavy-hitters from the '70s pop ballpark brought in to display their imagined ease with roots material. Eclecticism may keep the listener on the edge of their seat; early on, there is a cover of "Killing Me Softly," not at all bluegrass in delivery, that is every bit as interesting as the '90s version by the Fugees and indeed would make a fine combination for that record in a mash-up. "This Ain't Grass," sounding like an admonition to a crooked dope dealer, is an example of the slick and complex progressive bluegrass instrumentals that are the main course of these projects, allowing space for some brilliant picking as well as a sense that some kind of acoustic hillbilly cousin of electric jazz fusion is hiding in the closet. Many of these arrangements have stood up very well to the test of time, as generally does most music in which the players' minds are seriously engaged. It can be a jolt moving from such material to the Hollywood hokinesss of a Linda Ronstadt vocal or the too-easy silliness of the "Walk Don't Run" cover, but this is one of the problems Auldridge worked so hard to overcome when putting together such ambitious collections of material. Here he moves from spotlighting Mike Auldridge the dobro player to Auldridge the record producer and studio genius, so of course there's a bit of a letdown. He certainly makes a good case for himself choosing material, overlooking the odd dud and coming up with nifty instrumentals from the likes of dobro forefather Tut Taylor and unique country picker Roy Nichols and a fascinating country tune from fine songwriter Dick Curless.

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