A Potpourri of Bluegrass Jam
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In between his Boston psychedelic rock quartet Earth Opera (formed in 1967) and his celebrated early-'80s performances with Stephane Grappelli, mandolin master David Grisman formed a bluegrass supergroup with Clarence White and Peter Rowan. Here's the incredible album that resulted, originally released by Warner Bros. in 1974!
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In 1972 when recording for this album began, the five core members of the group had just recently left their previous bands. Clarence White (lead guitar), of course, had just left the Byrds. Richard Greene (fiddle) and Peter Rowan (guitar, vocals) had parted ways with Seatrain. Bill Keith (banjo) had left Kweskin's Jug Band. And David Grisman (mandolin)had split from Earth Opera. They were joined by bassist John Kahn and drummer John Guerin, transforming themselves into the first bluegrass supergroup.
The album kicks off with a rollicking version of "Mule Skinner Blues" that has White's Telecaster crackling and popping and Greene's fiddle propelling this classic along at lightning speed.
Several songs are taken from Bill Monroe's repertoire. (Not surprising since both Rowan and Greene played with the master in the mid-Sixties.) These include "Blue and Lonesome," "Footprints in the Snow" and the instrumental "Roanoke," which Keith ignites with his stellar banjo playing leaving the rest of the band to hang on for dear life.
On the other instrumental, the classic fiddle tune "Soldier's Joy," White, Grisman, Keith and Rowan display their skills on their respective instruments as they share lead breaks.
Of the handful of originals, the Grisman-penned "Opus 57 in G Minor" showcases what he would later dub "Dawg" music as he fuses bluegrass and jazz. The other two originals were written by Peter Rowan: "Runways of the Moon" (co-written with fellow Seatrain alum Jim Roberts) is very reminiscent of late-era Byrds, and the album closer "Blue Mule," offers Peter's eye-witness account of what "really" happened that day at the racetrack between Molly and Tenbrooks.
This would be Muleskinner's lone release (Clarence White was killed by a drunk driver months after the album's release), but it's a classic. Any serious fan of bluegrass needs to add this to his collection. ESSENTIAL