Cliff Waldron

The Best of Cliff Waldron and New Shades of Grass – 1999 (Rebel)

Reviewed by Brad San Martin

CDs by Cliff Waldron

This isn't driving, ridin' on the blinds bluegrass. Cliff Waldron had a vision of a more contemporary, sophisticated music. These 17 cuts, ecorded between 1971 and 1974, showcase the legacy of one of bluegrass's earliest progressives: freely incorporating both hard-core honky-tonk and the lush singer-songwriter music of the era, Waldron and band created a soft and subtle fusion.

Waldron's voice is perfect for the task: just twangy enough, yet precise and unadorned - a perfect point between high and lonesome (Monroe, Stanley, etc.) and low and lonely (Lightfoot, Haggard). Some astonishingly talented musicians passed through, including future Seldom Sceners Mike Auldridge and Ben Eldridge. Auldridge's dobro solos are the highlight of any collection, and this is no exception. Matched with a set of intelligent tunes, it all adds up to a moving experience. Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings" is rendered with poignancy and regret, while they treat Tom T. Hall's "Wash My Face in the Morning Dew" with an appropriate mix of defiance and distress. It seems that Waldron only stumbles when tackling older barnstormers. The Stanley Brother's chestnuts "Nobody's Love is Like Mine" and "I'm Lost and I'll Never Find My Way" just don't get off the ground. Such moments are few, however. This compilation is not meant to showcase yet another bluegrass repertory band, but an organization crucial to the genre's growth.