Written by 4:29 am Audiophile Music

Charles Sawtelle, Music from Rancho DeVille

Some albums get better with time. Charles Sawtelle’s Music From Rancho Deville ranks as one of the most essential and important bluegrass albums of the decade. It also sounds wonderful…


AR-5138N5MIKNL._SS500_.jpgMusic from Rancho DeVille is a love-letter from across the
grave. Charles Sawtelle passed away Mach 21, 1999, of complications from
leukemia. The last several years of his life were spent recuperating from chemotherapy
treatments and making recordings in his home studio, a small stone outbuilding
called Rancho DeVille. He entrusted Laurie Lewis with the daunting task of
collecting all his masters and forming them into an album. She has produced a
CD that is worthy of his memory.

Charles Sawtelle was the kind of guy who did so many things
well that his business card, which read “Expert”, wasn’t hyperbole.
This CD reveals the breadth of his talents. Cajun tunes like “The Newz Reel”
with Michael Doucet of BeauSoleil, old-time country “The Storms Are on The
Ocean” by A.P. Carter with Norman Blake on vocals, a Norteno version of
Woody Guthrie’s “The Ranger’s Command” where he’s joined by Flaco
Jimenez, and Lefty Frizell’s “Mom and Dad’s Waltz” with an unlikely,
but perfect vocal, by Vassar Clements are just a few of the musical treats on
Music From Rancho DeVille. Charles’ solos often forayed into uncharted
musical territory, and this CD has a couple that rival his best. “Let’s Go
Home” gives you a taste of his unique instrumental voice.

The biggest musical surprises here are Charles’ own original
compositions. Four instrumentals with the likes of David Grisman and Sam Bush
on mandolins, Vasser Clements playing fiddle, Jerry Douglas on resophonic
guitar, Todd Phillips on string bass, and of course Charles on his herringbone
Martin D-28 are simply stunning in their rare beauty. What makes them so
remarkable is that they are unpredictable yet classic at the same time.

Charles was a serious audiophile, and his studio was stocked
with great old microphones to couple with his superlative Grace eight-channel
microphone preamp. If you want to hear what a vintage pre-war Martin
herringbone or a Lloyd Loar F-5 mandolin really sounds like in the hands of a
master, you have to have this CD. Acoustic disc include their usual special
touches that makes their packaging special. Many of Charles’ close associates
as well as musicians on the album gives us insight into why Charles was
special.

After ten years of listening, the tunes on this album have
become indelibly burned into my brain. I have no doubt that this was one of the
best releases of 2001. As Charles would say “You NEED this CD.”

 

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