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Various Artists

Strummin' With the Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen – 2006 (CMH)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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Don't be fooled by the title of this CD, because those Pasadena, Cal. natives, Van Halen, have never had an honest Southern bone in their bodies. Even so, this four-piece was far more musically advanced and eclectic than most of the Sunset Boulevard crowd back in their heyday, which mainly consisted of '70s and '80s hair bands.

That's why ex-morning shock jock radio host and former Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth sounds so comfortable when singing "Jump" and "Jamie's cryin'" along with the John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band. "Jump" is turned into a hot lick picker's workout, while "Jamie's Cryin'" becomes a forlorn ballad.

Naturally, Roth is the primary selling point for this project. But it's truly an all star bluegrass lineup. In addition to Jorgenson's band, Blue Highway, The John Cowan Band, and Larry Cordle (among others) also appear. Some of these reconfigured hard rock songs work better than others. For instance, "And the Cradle Will Rock," which was only built to rock, is a letdown when done powered down. But whether these grassy and blue renditions fly or not, almost all of them are familiar. Except for "Unchained" and a few others, this is mainly a greatest hits collection unplugged.