Written by 4:54 pm Audiophile Music • One Comment

Three Great CDs and One DVD from 2003

This week’s blasts from the past include an important album from Tony Rice, a bizarre release from Dan Reeder, and a superlative live performance album (in both CD and DVD) from Asleep at the Wheel.


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Tony Rice – The
Bluegrass Guitar Collection

Rounder
Records
 

Tony Rice and the words
“bluegrass guitar” are rarely, if ever, separated. Along with Doc Watson, Dan
Crary, and Clarence White, Tony Rice has had more influence on modern
flatpicking than anyone else. This new anthology from Rounder shows the breadth
and scope of Tony’s remarkable technique and musicality.

Joined by a veritable who’s
who of bluegrass greats including Darol Anger, Bobby Hicks, Rickie Simpkins,
Richard Greene, Vassar Clements, Stuart Duncan and Sam Bush on fiddle, David
Grisman, Larry Rice, Doyle Lawson, Norman Blake, Sam Bush, John Reischman, and
Jimmy Gaudreau on mandolin, Todd Phillips, Mark Schatz, and Ronnie Simpkins on
bass, J. D. Crowe on banjo, Jerry Douglas on dobro, and Doc Watson, Wyatt Rice,
and Norman Blake on guitar, this all instrumental album covers material from
fourteen different albums. Although the sound quality varies from acceptable to
excellent the musicianship remains stellar throughout. Rice’s groups show that
even on overexposed material such as “Blackberry Blossom” or “Bill Cheatham”
great musicians have something fresh and new to say.

Much has been written about
Tony Rice’s main axe, a 1935 Martin D-28 whose previous owner was none other
than Clarence White. The CD’s cover features a close-up of the bullet hole in
its top. Tony acquired the guitar in 1975, and has played it almost
continuously ever since. He does not pamper it. The day after playing on
Rockygrass’s rainy outdoor stage in Lyons, Colorado, I watched him spread
cigarette ash on its top to absorb some of the moisture it picked up during his
waterlogged set. I’ve played his guitar. The action is so low that only Tony
can produce buzz free sound from its electric-like set-up. In the hands of mere
mortals it sounds just like another poorly set up old guitar instead of the
flattop holy grail.

The
label “must have album” is often bandied about, but in the case of Tony Rice The Bluegrass Guitar Collection
it is anything but hyperbole. Every aficionado of flatpicked
bluegrass-style guitar needs to have this disc in their collection.


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Dan Reeder – Dan
Reeder

Oh
Boy Records

The
word unique has been so vastly overused in our age of hype that most manglers
of the English language feel obligated to add most or very in front of it.
Unique is one of those digital words like pregnant. You either are or aren’t –
on or off, yes or no. Most people and things labeled “very unique” are merely
slightly different, not truly unique at all. Then there is Dan Reeder. He is
unique, not extremely unique or semi-unique, but simply unique. He makes all
his own instruments, writes his own material, records himself in his home
studio, and creates music that reflects his own singular view of the world.

One
word that will never be attached to Dan Reeder is polished. His songs and
performances, just like his homemade instruments, have as many rough edges as a
woodworker who never uses sandpaper. Many of the cuts have background noise and
hum as well as some tenuous tunings. While not truly low-fi, the recording
quality here is certainly far less than current state of the art. The songs
themselves are also crude. Some of them, such as “Work Song”” consist of just
the lyrics I’ve got all the f****** work I need” over and over again. Others
like “These Are A Few of My Favorite Things” displays a dark view of the world
that borders on ultramarine.  But despite
his generally curmudgeonly outlook, the songs are fresh, funny, and infectious.
The “Work Song” gets a lot of airtime bouncing around in my cranium.

The
graphics on Dan Reeder also deserve
some attention. The pictures have a primitive power that echoes his music.
Images of a coffee cup in mid spill, a tube emitting noxious fumes, and a
portrait of Dan holding his hand over a lit flame echo the primordial
directness of his songs. The liner notes also sport photos of his instruments.
After seeing Dan’s handiwork you’ll never think a Dan Electro or EKO guitar is
primitive again. His instruments have a certain infantile flavor reminiscent of
a six-year-old’s first pictures of mom and dad. His DeNAr FLEX amplifier marks
a true nadir of industrial design.

Need
a musical colonic? Give Dan Reeder a listen. I guarantee you will not waste the
word “unique” on undeserving wannabees again.


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Asleep At The
Wheel – Live at Billy Bob’s Texas

DVD
& CD

Smith
Music Group

Asleep
at the Wheel has carved out a niche almost as big as Texas playing western
swing.  Begun in 1969, Asleep at the
Wheel has stayed true to leader Ray Benson’s vision of what country music
should sound like. Based on a style pioneered by Bob Wills “the Elvis Presley
of western swing” Asleep at the Wheel features tight ensemble playing, hot
solos, and polished arrangements.

Asleep
at The Wheel’s latest release showcases the band in their native environment,
playing live in a Texas venue. It’s available both as a CD or DVD, so if you
don’t want to use your eyes you can opt for the CD. But for the full live
effect, I strongly recommend the DVD. Unlike many live-performance DVD’s, this
disc has excellent production values, including fine editing, good camera angles,
excellent sharpness, sumptuous color saturation, and lively cinematic pacing.
In short, this is easily the best live concert DVD I’ve seen. Produced and
edited by Michael Drumm along with executive producers Rick Smith and Billy
Minick, this is one of  many DVD’s in the
Live at Billy Bob’s Texas series. Other artists captured live onstage include
Roy Clark, Gary Stewart, and Merle Haggard.

Since
its inception Asleep at the Wheel has had 90 different musicians in the
band.  The current roster includes Ray
Benson on guitar and lead vocals, David Miller on bass and vocals, Jason
Roberts on fiddle, electric guitar, and vocals, Hayden Vitera on fiddle and
vocals, David Danger on drums, John Michael Whitby on piano and vocals, Jim
Murphy on steel guitar and saxophone, and Cindy Cashdollar on steel guitar.
While singling out individuals in this precision musical unit is similar to
picking the best tasting color for M&Ms, the twin fiddle work of Roberts
and Vitera can’t help but make a strong impression. Haydn Vitera also does a
sterling vocal job on the Vivan Keith and Ben Peters song “Before the Next
Teardrop Falls” which was originally a big hit for Freddy Fender.

Along
with the sixteen songs, the DVD includes two nifty special features; an
interview with Ray Benson, and a photo gallery of still images. Unlike many
concert DVDs which offer only stereo or Dolby derived surround mixes, Live at Billy Bob’s Texas includes Dolby
Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 discrete surround mixes in addition to a 2-channel
Dolby Digital soundttack. I prefer the DTS audio because of its added bass
energy, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix also sounds great. Recording engineers
Paul Whitehead and Bob Wright deserve a lot of credit for capturing Asleep at
the Wheel’s vibrant live sound.

If
you are an Asleep at the Wheel fan Live
at Billy Bob’s Texas
is simply a must have. Even if you have only a
moderate interest in western swing Live
at Billy Bobs
can turn you into a hardcore fan. 

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