John Sebastian & David Grisman,
(Acoustic Disc, 2007)

Products of the Village folk scene of the 1960s, John Sebastian and David Grisman played together for a short time in the influential, fondly remembered and now obscure Even Dozen Jug Band. According to Satisfied's liner notes, their paths rarely crossed over the next four decades. Reunited at a benefit concert in 2005, they resumed performing together as older, significantly more seasoned musicians. This modest but perfect album is the happy consequence.

Sebastian is most famous, of course, for his work with the Lovin' Spoonful, a rock 'n' roll band that wore its jug, blues and folk influences on its sleeve and whose music -- as I was reminded when not long ago a friend gave me a CD overview of their career -- sounds amazingly fresh even today. Sebastian's talents include songwriting, harmonica-blowing and guitar-picking, all in evidence here, as are jug-band references to underscore Sebastian's continuing enthusiasm for the genre, manifested in his project of recent years, the J Band. Grisman, who in the intervening decades never went through a pop phase ("David's interest in pop music flagged somewhere around Chuck Berry," Sebastian notes), pursued the mandolin in its various forms -- mandola, banjo mandolin and more -- from grass roots to outer limits, from mountain music and bluegrass to the improvisational, self-invented "dawg music."

There are no other musicians here, nor need there be. The picking, which never flies off into the ozone, remains precise and melody-focused, with effective use of between-note spaces. The menu is divided between instrumentals and songs. The latter, with all vocals courtesy of Sebastian (Grisman doesn't sing), feature a couple of Mississippi John Hurt numbers (the title song and "Coffee Blues," from which Sebastian's late band filched the "lovin' spoonful" image), a folk song (the eternal "John Henry"), vintage pop (notably "Deep Purple," a "Stardust" knockoff but still one out-of-this-world tune) and some originals (my favorite being "Coconut Grove," Sebastian's ode to the late Fred Neil, first written -- with bandmate Zal Yanovsky -- and recorded in Spoonful days, and recently revived by Eric Andersen on his 2005 Appleseed release Waves).

The instrumentals, every one of them, will trigger bliss and wonder in the soul and ear of any sensible listener. As an Everly Brothers fan of long standing, I take special delight in the inclusion, sans lyrics, of the Sonny Curtis composition "Walk Right Back," a 1961 hit for Don & Phil. The album closes with Will Shade's (a.k.a. Son Brimmer's) sweet old-time "Jug Band Waltz." And if you wait a few seconds before you snatch the disc from the player, you'll hear an abbreviated pickin'-and- whistlin' version of the Spoonful's "Daydream."

review by
Jerome Clark

16 February 2008

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