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Sam Bush
 Glamour and Grits, Sugar Hill Records CD SHCD-3849, 1996 (53:41)

New grass, freshly mowed.

As the title suggests, mandolin picker Sam Bush's second solo album is a mixed bag of new grass instrumentals, old-timey bluegrass and country pop. Bush is joined by long time New Grass Revival collaborator Béla Fleck, keyboard legend Al Kooper and a complement of talented sidemen on this spin through modern Nashville bluegrass. They reach the high points on the instrumentals (Sam Bush will be remembered as a top-notch mandolin player long after... well, for a long time), but manage to keep a nice warm chardonnay-under-live-oaks feeling even through some of the more forgettable vocal material.

The instrumentals showcase Bush as a performer, but also as a writer. It's hard to resist drawing the obvious comparison to Béla Fleck-their compositions do share a certain sound, but you'll find Bush's less fusion-inflected, leaning toward the groovier side. The smoldering lines of "Whayasay" weave together in a new blue fugue, occasionally giving way to flamenco flavored breaks. "Stingray" is pure breakneck flatpicking, and the boys lay way back on the easy chug of "Watson Allman". Sam covers a lot of mando territory in these tunes, from scratching to picking to slide on both acoustic and electric instruments. And, if any questions remain about his facility on things stringed, he hauls out the fiddle for a couple of numbers.

The vocal tunes range from a mournful cover of Willis Alan Ramsey's "The Ballad of Spider John" to the three-chord humalong "All Night Radio" and back to the tent revival "The Lord Came Unto Me". An otherwise disappointing cover of Bob Marley's "Is This Love" (bluegrass Marley?) is salvaged by Al Kooper's whirly, insistent organ part. Rich harmonies throughout, with fine production, but as a whole, they just don't live up to the instrumentals.

If it's a pure dose of zesty Nashville newgrass you're after, this'll give you a taste. If you're looking for the best of country singing and songwriting, we can recommend a few others. If you want fifty three minutes of both without having to get out of the hot tub, you could do a lot worse. -  Jason Staczek

production notes & song titles

Sam Bush, mandolins, vocals, guitar, fiddles; Béla Fleck, banjos; Al Kooper, piano, organ; Jerry Douglas, dobro; John Cowan, bass, vocals; Jon Randall, guitar, vocals; Larry Atamanuik, drums; Mark W. Winchester, bass.

Produced by Sam Bush. Recorded and mixed by David Sinko. Mastered by Denny Purcell.

Whayasay | Same Ol' River | All Night Radio | Stingray | The Ballad of Spider John | Watson Allman | Is This Love | Brilliancy | Spooky Lane | Ol' Joe Clark | The Lord Came Unto Me | (One Night in Old) Galway

of related interest

Jerry Douglas,  Everything is Gonna Work Out Fine, Rounder Records CD 1166 11535 2, 1987.  Fluxedo and  Fluxology on one CD.

Mandozine: The Online Journal for Mandolin

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.