Darol Anger and Mike Marshall’s 1983 The Duo marks another acoustic-music first – a violin-mandolin duet. Joined by Rob Wasserman on acoustic bass for one cut, The Duo is just that – two guys playing for the pure joy of it. Their version of “Golden Slippers” happily bounces along while they veer into complex contrapuntal cross-picking. Marshall’s “Wall of Mando Madness” ventures into variations in rhythm and instrumental texture never heard before and rarely attempted since. The final cut on the disc, a seven-minute version of Marshall’s “Gator’s Dream” demonstrates just how far outside two players can get without losing sight of the tune’s musical core.
Both CDs sound much better than you might expect from 20-year-old recordings. Much of the credit should go to the original recording engineers on the projects. Even back in the early ’80s, some people knew how to record acoustic instruments so they sounded natural. The two cuts on The Duo that were mixed live to two-track tape by engineer Howard Johnson sound especially fine with just the right combination of presence coupled with natural reverberation.
Most reviewers are guilty of assigning too many albums “must-have” status. But at the risk of crying wolf one too many times, if you have more than a passing interest in bluegrass, jazz, or new acoustic music, you need to own a copy of this essential CD.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.