Grisman, Hartford, Seeger

Retrograss – 1999 (Acoustic Disc)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

CDs by Grisman, Hartford, Seeger

David Grisman, John Hartford and Mike Seeger have managed to preserve and protect a great deal of this country's traditional music, both in performance and on record. This trio record is a bit different, however. They took some familiar songs from the bluegrass, R&B and rock and roll canon and adapted them to an old-time style.

What sounds like a gimmick not unlike the kitschy Run C&W band ends up something more in the hands of these veteran musicians. "Hound Dawg," the Big Mama Thornton song made famous by Elvis Presley, is appropriately playful, but in a parlor style they credit to the 1920's group Charlie Poole and The North Carolina Ramblers. Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm," is turned into a banjo tune in the mode of one of Dylan's biggest influences, Dock Boggs. The Chuck Berry classic "Memphis" becomes more a jug band tune than an early rock and roll tune.

Those more radical reworkings are balanced out by some less revolutionary, but still intriguing versions of bluegrass tunes - Earl Scruggs, "Pine Hill Special," Jimmy Martin's "My Walking Shoes" and the omnipresent classic, "Uncle Pen." With these more traditional tunes included, what could have been a mere novelty record becomes a fascinating study in the mutability of musical genres from another era.