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Various Artists

Tone Poets – 2005 (Acoustic Disc)

Reviewed by Brad San Martin

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This two-CD collection is a very clever spin on the Tone Poems concept that Acoustic Disc has pursued over three previous releases. On those collections, label honcho and mando-master David Grisman has chosen one or two collaborators, surrounded them with a bevy of rare vintage instruments and recorded an album of duets and trios.

Here he does the opposite - only two instruments are used. And instead of a core group, every song features different musicians playing either solos or duets on either Grisman's 1922 Gibson "Loar" F-5 mandolin or a 1933 Martin OM-45 flat-top guitar.

Through the work of pioneering musicians from Bill Monroe to Sam Bush, these instruments are synonymous with bluegrass. But bluegrass music was not yet invented when these instruments first rolled off the production line.One of the great pleasures here is hearing these familiar timbres used in a wide variety of settings and styles. Straight bluegrass is never too far away - just dial up Ronnie and Del McCoury's "Glen Rock" or Mike Compton's Monroe-drenched solo mandolin workout "Jimmy Fell Off the Wagon."

But with a cast of contributors this enormous (42), the music veers all over the globe. Jazz plays a big part in the contributions of folks like Tony Williamson, Martin Taylor and the duo of Don Stiernberg and John Carlini. Django-style gypsy swing is heard from John Jorgenson and Frank Vignola.

If you enjoy blues fingerpicking, moaning slide, quirky classical interpretations (Evan Marshall's "Joyful Variations" is another technical marvel from this underrated master), old time stringband music, newgrass and Brazilian choro, then you won't be disappointed.

As we've come to expect from Acoustic Disc, the fidelity is impeccable, and a lavish full-color booklet runs down brief bios of all the contributors and the instruments utilized. It all makes for a wondrous and enjoyable journey into the souls of these musicians and instruments.