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Jerry Douglas & Peter Rowan
 Yonder, Sugar Hill CD SHCD-3847 (45:48)

Exquisite and deceptively simple music

Break out the lemonade, here's your classic front porch summertime album. Two guitarists, one a master of the dobro, the other singing in his resonant and flexible baritone. Jerry Douglas was last seen in these parts on the Bourbon and Rosewater album. You may know Peter Rowan from Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, or the jazz-country-rock group Sea Train, or the Old and in the Way album he did with Jerry Garcia, which included his classic tokin' song "Panama Red." This new album features several old songs whose titles you may not recognize, but whose melodies were etched on your subconcious years ago, as well as a few fine originals. All of it was recorded using classic tube microphones and preamps, not in sterile studios but in the living rooms of friends such as banjo wizard Béla Fleck and the B-52s' Cindy Wilson.

The songs echo back to the early part of the American century, before jazz, blues and country went their somewhat separate ways. Several are listed as "traditional," when what is really meant, of course, is that the songs are now in the public domain and no effort was made to track down the original authors. Of course, doing that can get complicated. Take "Cannonball Blues" as an example. First, this is not the same as the "Cannonball Blues" composed and recorded by Jelly Roll Morton, but the Grateful Dead fave also known as "Cannonball" or "Solid Gone." Its composer is uncredited here, although A. P. Carter is usually listed. But while the Carter family was the first to record it, it was probably written by a little-known black musician, Leslie Riddles. In an album meant to celebrate America's musical heritage, more information and acknowledgement of the music's creators would seem to be in order.

But these are quibbles. This is a wonderful album. The overall tone is reflective and slightly melancholy. Douglas and Rowan sound like two good friends playing songs they remember their mothers singing. The warmth of the album is palpable. Rowan sings on all the songs but one, with just enough of a country catch in his voice to keep the down home feel. He even sings the lyrics to "Lullaby of the Leaves." This '30s chestnut (by Bernice Petkere, who also composed "Close Your Eyes") has been recorded by everyone from the Ventures to Tito Puente, and half of jazzdom in between. But I can't recall ever hearing the lyrics before.

The recording is remarkably fine, capturing the tone of the instruments and Rowan's voice exceptionally well. The instruments seem to loom just a little larger than life, maybe because a couple too many of the fine Neuman mikes were used. But it's a tiny flaw, and on some audio systems it may actually be an improvement.

The one song on which Rowan does not sing is "When You and I Were Young, Maggie," which Douglas performs as a beautiful solo. In case you find yourself, as I did, trying to remember the words to this creaky but gorgeous 1886 tearjerker by George W. Johnson and James Austin Butterfield, here they are.

I wandered today to the hill, Maggie, To watch the scene below; The creek and the old rusty mill, Maggie, Where we sat in the long, long ago. The green grove is gone from the hill, Maggie, Where first the daisies sprung; The creaking old mill is still, Maggie, Since you and I were young.
And now we are aged and gray, Maggie, And the trials of life nearly done; But to me you're as fair as you were, Maggie, When you and I were young.

When you listen to this album, you may also be taken back in mind to a gentler and more beautiful time. Thanks to Jerry Douglas and Peter Rowan for helping us remember.--  Glenn Brooks

production notes & song titles

Jerry Douglas, dobro and Weissenborn guitars; Peter Rowan, vocal, guitar and mandolin.

Produced by Jerry Douglas; recorded and mixed by Bil VornDick; mastered by David Glaser at Airshow.

Wayside Tavern | Cannonball Blues | Lullaby of the Leaves | Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues | Texas Rangers | Can't Get There from Here | Tribulations | When You and I Were Young, Maggie | Girl in the Blue Velvet Band | Chicka-Li-Lee-O | You Taught Me How to Lose | Where Angels Weep

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.