The Dillards

Live!!! Almost!!!

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In the early 1960s, the Dillards were one of the first bluegrass acts to try to move the music out of the traditional confines of its Southern roots and into something closer to the mainstream, and Live!!! Almost!!!, recorded at an L.A. nightclub in 1964, plays like a clever and quite successful attempt to introduce bluegrass to the upscale folk audience who had embraced acts like the Kingston Trio, the Limelighters or the Smothers Brothers. The latter comparison is especially apt given the significant amount of playing time devoted to bassist Mitch Jayne's witty between-song banter, which doubtless helped the Dillards go over in nightclubs not frequented by bluegrass loyalists. As funny as Jayne is, what makes this album worth hearing today is the superb picking from Doug Dillard on the banjo, Rodney Dillard on the guitar and Dean Webb on the mandolin; these three musicians display a tremendous respect for the roots of this music as well as a melodic sense that leaves them space to explore new ground, and even bluegrass perennials like "Black-Eyed Susie," "Old Blue," and "Pretty Polly" get a fresh and exciting treatment here. And while these guys could play with dazzling speed, there's a sense of the value of each note in these performances, and Jim Dickson's stereo recording gives an admirable sense of the space and shape of this music on-stage. At this point, the Dillards were a few years away from their trail-blazing fusion of bluegrass and electric rock, and the "progressive" part of their progressive bluegrass stance was more felt than heard, but their talent and creative ambition were already clearly audible on Live!!! Almost!!!, and this album remains a joy to hear more than forty years on.

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