Alex de Grassi

Now and Then: Folk Songs for the 21st Century

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Interpreting any style of classic song can be a dicey affair for a musician when the melodies have been ingrained into the public consciousness for generations. Quite simply, a lot of folks just don't like someone messing around with their music, but if an artist stirs in the right ingredients, something new and refreshing can be baked from those old familiar goodies. On Now and Then, guitarist Alex de Grassi applies his meticulous fingerstyle playing to a set of American folk standards and comes up with a morsel that is tasty, but not wholly satisfying. Utilizing the rhythms and musical styles of today, de Grassi updates traditional songs like "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and "Shortnin' Bread" and picks through them with unsurpassed technique on his solo acoustic guitar. When combined with a sterling arrangement, as on "Single Girl," in which the reflections of frontier life are interrupted by strains of the national anthem, the songs breathe freely once again. Yet there are moments where the timeless melodies seem to get lost and are mere skeletons covered with a new age skin, as on "Lay This Body Down." This tends to hold back brighter highlights such as the confident "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," where melody and interpretation form a partnership without conflict. Even more successful is the inclusion of bass and percussion on "Oh Susanna," with Michael Manring adding a jazzy bass solo to the eclectic arrangement. As always, de Grassi's guitar work is superb and interesting, but more songs could have benefited from the additional instrument or two and perhaps lifted this disc from the pleasant listen that it is to a successful adventure through American folk music.

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