Vassar Clements

Full Circle

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Except for Bill Monroe, there is probably no figure in bluegrass music who commands as much respect across so many musical boundaries as fiddler Vassar Clements. Having fiddled not only with such bluegrass eminences as Monroe and Jim & Jesse, but also for the Grateful Dead and Dickey Betts, among many others, his name is spoken with reverence in just about every circle of American music. But his most famous recording is the one he made with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and a host of other bluegrass and country music stars, the now-legendary Will the Circle Be Unbroken. This album's title makes reference to that release and employs a similar (if much more restricted) approach to studio personnel -- he's joined here by Jim & Jesse (on the standard "Hard Hearted"), Ricky Skaggs (on the lovely "Your Love Is Like a Flower"), banjoist J.D. Crowe, mandolinist Sam Bush, and many others. The result is mostly very good, but occasionally disappointing. Interestingly, the least interesting songs are the ones that cross genre boundaries most boldly -- a muscular take on Cream's "White Room" (sung by the insufferable John Cowan) and a really awful instrumental rendition of "Yesterday." However, the group's cover of the Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face" works very nicely, and the more traditional material is uniformly excellent. Clements leads the band through a barn-burning performance of the Monroe instrumental "Tall Timber," and Peter Rowan makes a nice appearance on "When the Golden Leaves Begin to Fall." Fans will love this album, and newcomers will find plenty to enjoy as well.

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