On the album cover, Retrograss is defined as "music shifted back in time," a direction that -- while not impossible to conceive -- is mildly shocking considering David Grisman's relentlessly progressive approach toward traditional styles. Alas, democracy still rules at Dawg Studios, and with John Hartford and Mike Seeger signing on, it comes as no surprise that this collection is a step back in time -- old time, that is. The album features nearly one hour of 20th century classics "retrograssed" to achieve a rustic, jug band feel. From the opening banjo rolls of "My Walking Shoes," it's pretty obvious what you're getting into, and there are no quantum leaps thematically, tonally, or otherwise from that point on. However, Retrograss does explore a very fecund and diverse American musical fabric, which has threads of country, blues, bluegrass, folk, rock & roll, etc. Songs like Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" or the Osborne Brothers' "Rocky Top" adapt quite naturally in this landscape, but Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" sounds like a '57 Chevy running on four cylinders. Simply stated, the bluegrass cuts that were born out of old time music -- songs like "Airmail Special," "Jerusalem Ridge," and "Rocky Road Blues" -- are the most appealing to the auditory senses. Oddly enough, Lennon and McCartney's vaudevillian "When I'm Sixty Four" is also a delightful moment. All in all, these live, in-studio recordings are mirthful, rocking chair adaptations of American music history. Seeger and Grisman's honeyed tenors conflict well with Hartford's quirky baritone. There are no breakneck solos, and the whole effort achieves more than the sum of its parts -- which was enough to draw a 2000 Grammy nomination in the Traditional Folk Album category.
AllMusic Review by Brian Kelly