Record Review - 2 November 13 2003

While music fans have a lot of respect for virtuosity, at some point the precision and intensity can stop being entertaining, stranding the listener in the artist's showboating. This has often been the case in the work of mandolinist David Grisman, who created his own Acoustic Disc label in order to have the freedom to experiment.

Over the past several years, Grisman has explored a plethora of musical directions, with mixed success. Fittingly, the release of Hold On, We're Strummin', a duet album with another highly regarded mandolinist, Sam Bush, was met with initial trepidation. Bush has become a legend in his own circle, having been a founding member of New Grass Revival, a successful solo artist and a first-call session player.

With as much talent as Grisman and Bush have between them, one would expect nothing less than perfection from Strummin'. But what really stands out on this record is the fun that these two obviously had making it. Mandolins are one of the world's most beautiful sounding instruments and, in the right hands, they can be magical.

The 16 tracks here include 12 original pieces, with Grisman and Bush playing several different instruments throughout. Ranging from hard bluegrass to chamber music, the duo explores a vast range of styles, mastering every one of them. They even venture into dangerous territory with the poorly named "Jamgrass 741," which, in spite of the nominal insinuation, stands as one of the most powerful pieces of music on the entire disc. A perfect blend of melody, tone and feeling, it will move you.

Sam Bush plays the Variety Playhouse Fri., Nov. 14. $15.