For the last 40 years whenever a band leader uttered the phrase “Take it Vassar…” you could be assured the next sounds would be amazing. Clements’ reputation for playing innovative fiddle began with his work with Bill Monroe, and during the following decades he has been in constant demand as a session player. His pioneering use of jazzy chromatic scales, horn-like melody lines, and sliding double-stops, makes his sound unique.
On Livin’ With the Blues, he combines his musical talents with a number of fine acoustic, country, and roots blues musicians including Bob Brozman, Elvin Bishop, Maria Muldar, Dave Matthews, Roy Rogers, Charlie Musselwhite, Marc Silber, and Norton Buffalo for 15 memorable selections. Highlights are “Honey Babe Blues” and “I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle,” where Maria Muldaur combines her distinctive vocal style to Vassar’s fiddle work. Her voice has changed drastically since her early recordings with Jim Kweskin’s jug band. Sophisticated phrasing and a mature timbre have replaced girlish ebullience.
Produced by David Grisman and Norton Buffalo and recorded at Dawg Studios by Larry Cummings and David Grisman, Livin’ With The Blues sounds great, as expected from Acoustic Disc. But unlike many “audiophile” recordings that sound great at the expense of musical spontaneity, these have the vibrancy of a live and informal performance. If your home audio system is up to snuff this CD will recreate an eerie level of musical verisimilitude.
The packaging also deserves mention. Collectors of older Blue Note jazz LPs will notice the cover layout on this CD apes Blue Note’s visual style right down to the typeface, colors, and slightly out of focus artist’s photograph.
Although Clements’ firmly established reputation needs no additional embellishment, Livin’ With The Blues further illuminates the depth and breadth of his talents. Take it, Vassar…
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Oct. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.