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Vishwa Mohan Bhatt & Jerry Douglas
 Bourbon & Rosewater, Water Lily Acoustics CD WLA-CS-47-CD, 1995 (42:29)

 An exotic musical cocktail

"This work is dedicated to Bill Monroe and Baba Allaudin Khan." There you have it in a nutshell: Monroe the figurative father of bluegrass and Khan the classical Indian music master, teacher of Ravi Shankar and literal father of Ali Akbar Khan, two of the most famous Indian musicians. Dobro wizard Jerry Douglas, a veteran of the "newgrass" or "new acoustic music" crowd that includes Bela Fleck and Tony Rice, meets Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the Indian master of the mohan vina, his modification of the lap steel guitar, with more than supplementary assistance by bassist Edgar Meyer on three songs. Douglas plays your standard issue dobro lap steel, while Bhatt's mohan vina has many added strings which resonate sympathetically with the melody played on the main strings. Douglas and Meyer have worked and recorded together many times (they have a great trio with guitarist Russ Barenberg) and Bhatt recorded the Grammy-winning  A Meeting by the River with Ry Cooder, also on Water Lily.

In many respects, I enjoy this album even more than the fine Cooder/Bhatt outing. The playing by all three musicians is wonderful, and Bhatt and Douglas sound like they have been working together for years. Douglas has an incisive sound which meshes well with Bhatt's clean musical lines, and he seems to have adapted his playing substantially to the Indian style. The album is evenly balanced between Kentucky and Delhi. Most of the tunes have folk/bluegrass melodies and structure, while the playing by both guitarists features the microtonal note-bending and rapid phrases of Indian music. The result is wholly enjoyable.

The three songs written by and featuring Edgar Meyer are, for me, the highlights of the album. "Bourbon & Rosewater" kicks the proceedings off with a rush. Meyer's bass sets up a rollicking ostinato train rhythm with an irresistible feel of fast triplets. Some dazzling fretwork by both Bhatt and Douglas keep things a-hummin'. Meyer also contributes "Many Miles from Home," which starts with a subterranean bowed bass line supporting Bhatt's snaky improvisation before chugging down to a frisky down-home duet between Douglas and Bhatt, and "Resurrection," a shadowy mood piece like a slow late night tango.

Bhatt wrote the aptly named "Gypsies from Rajasthan," a duet with Douglas which explores the connection between Indian music and gypsy dances. Meyer returns on Bhatt's "Bent Notes of the Bauls," a light, upbeat, almost classic sounding piece. (The Bauls are Bengali mystics whose songs describe the spiritual world with very physical metaphors.) "Desert Winds" is a mesmerizing solo improvisation by Bhatt on an Indian folk tune.

Douglas contributed "Overtones & Stained Glass," a slow country number that breaks into quick parallel runs on the two guitars that recalls John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. He also has a solo number, "Mississippi Mud," to close the album with a slow bluesy reverie. With one exception, the recording is a knockout, as usual for Water Lily. The recording was made on analog tube equipment, with no compression, equalization, limiting or noise reduction. The care taken in the recording definitely shows, or rather sounds, in the way it captures both the percussive attack of the guitars as well as the subtle ambience of the recording space. On the duets and trios, Bhatt is on the left, Douglas on the right, and Meyer's bass is just a little to the right of center. The one small blemish is the slightly too loud, too close recording of Douglas' solo guitar on the last track. --  Glenn Brooks

production notes & song titles

Jerry Douglas, dobro guitar; Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, mohan vina; Edgar Meyer, bass.

Produced by Kavichandran Alexander, recorded by Alexander at Christ the King Chapel. St. Anthony's Seminary, Santa Barbara, California, mastered by Tim de Paravicini.

Bourbon & Rosewater | Gypsies from Rajasthan | Overtones & Stained Glass | Bent Notes of the Bauls | Many Miles from Home | Resurrection | Desert Winds | Mississippi Mud

of related interest

Jerry Douglas

 Everything Is Gonna Work Out Fine, Rounder CD 11535
Combines his Rounder LPs Fluxology (1979) and Fluxedo (1982) on one hour-long CD. With an all-star cast of the best of the acoustic Nashville crowd.
 Slide Rule, Sugar Hill CD 3797, 1992 (40:08)
His recent work, again with some of the best musicians around.

Jerry Douglas, Russ Barenberg, Edgar Meyer

 Skip, Hop & Wobble, Sugar Hill CD 1589, 1993 (40:20)
Fine trio date.

Ry Cooder and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt

 A Meeting by the River, Water Lily Acoustics CD WLA-CS-29-CD, 1993 (39:33)
Cooder and Bhatt stretch out on four mesmerizing tracks.

Jerry Douglas has his own web site. Also check out the Jerry Douglas page that is part of a site by Brad Bechtel devoted to the steel guitar in all its variations.

There is an excellent guide by Allen Lutins to recordings which combine Western and Indian classical techniques.

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.