David Grisman: Life of Sorrow

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Acoustic Disc; P.O. Box 4143, San Rafael, CA 94913; (800) 221-3472; www.acousticdisc.com.

For the past four decades, Northern California mandolinist David Grisman has been best known for the distinctive but genre-blurring "New Acoustic" fusion of folk, bluegrass, country, and jazz he calls "Dawg Music." But in the past few years, he has made increasingly frequent return visits to his bluegrass roots. (In his native New Jersey, he was tutored by mandolinist-folklorist Ralph Rinzler and steeped himself in the seminal style of Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass.) On Life of Sorrow, Grisman shows that the traditional repertoire of heartache songs fits naturally under his fleet-picking fingers. The CD culls 15 tracks (plus one "hidden" cut at the end) from formal and casual recordings he's made over the past 30 years, mostly in the mid- to late '90s. In them, Grisman applies his mandolin virtuosity to a variety of bluegrass and old-time settings, with collaborators such as Del McCoury, Herb Pedersen, Ralph Stanley, the late John Hartford, and many others.

Without reference to the Buddha, traditional backwoods music acknowledges the suffering that is central to life, and songs like "All the Good Times Are Past and Gone," "When You and I Were Young Maggie," and "Man of Constant Sorrow" delve deeply into the pain and dissatisfaction that come as love, freedom, and life itself slip out of our grasp. Ironically, this type of music, often breathtakingly simple and straightforward, can alleviate the emotional burdens it portrays; these gorgeously rendered versions of it do just that, with Grisman's mandolin lending an indelibly optimistic twinkle.

Contributing Editor Derk Richardson writes about popular culture for Yoga Journal the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and the Web site
SFGate (www.sfgate.com).