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Life of Sorrow

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Album Review

David Grisman has never denied his roots in bluegrass, as it has always been an important ingredient in his self-described "Dawg Music." On this compilation, recorded over a three-decade stretch, the mandolin master sticks exclusively to bluegrass as he collaborates with a host of friends and influences interpreting various sorrow-laden melodies that have became staples within the genre. Every track packs an emotional punch, especially the intimate duets ("Doin' My Time" with the late John Hartford on banjo and vocals; "When You and I Were Young, Maggie" with guitarist/singer Mac Wiseman; "Tragic Romance" with banjo player Alan O'Bryant; singing a duet with Grisman; and guitarist/singer Del McCoury performing the old chestnut "Tennessee Waltz"). It's also hard to overlook the contributions of veteran singer Ralph Stanley (belatedly discovered by many music fans following the revival of his early hit, "Man of Constant Sorrow," sung by Dan Tyminski for the soundtrack to the blockbuster movie O, Brother Where Art Thou?), whose still-potent tenor vocal accompanies Grisman's vocal in a much more subdued interpretation of this landmark piece composed by his late brother, Carter Stanley. Perhaps the most unusual selection is "Pretty Saro," a 1969 recording by guitarist and singer John Nagy of an old English folk tune, backed by his orchestrations and Grisman's mandolin. As usual, Grisman sneaks in a hidden bonus track (the Carter Family's "Keep on the Sunny Side of Life," performed with Wiseman) following the last selection. Grisman's detailed liner notes, the inclusion of complete lyrics for every song, and the treasure trove of photographs also help to make this an essential purchase for every bluegrass fan.


Born: 23 March 1945 in Hackensack, NJ

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

David Grisman is normally associated with the bluegrass wing of country music, but his music owes almost as much to jazz as it does to traditional American folk influences. Because he couldn't think of what to call his unique, highly intricate, harmonically advanced hybrid of acoustic bluegrass, folk, and jazz without leaning toward one idiom or another, he offhandedly decided to call it "dawg music" -- a name which, curiously enough, has stuck. A brilliant mandolinist, with roots deep in the Quintet...
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