John Sebastian and David Grisman first ran into each other in the early ’60s, when Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park was the epicenter of the national Folk Boom. They were both recruited by guitarist Stefan Grossman for a recording project to be dubbed The Even Dozen Jug Band – in hindsight, somewhat of a supergroup, featuring, among others, Steve Katz, Maria Muldaur, and Joshua Rifkin.
Both, of course, went on to legendary status while crisscrossing the worlds of folk, pop, jazz, and rock – mandolinist Grisman with his groundbreaking David Grisman Quintet, singer, guitarist, autoharp and harmonica player Sebastian with the hugely successful Lovin’ Spoonful. Both also proved to be A-1 songwriters and composers.
Still, the notion of the pair recording an all-acoustic duo album might surprise some. Grisman and his Acoustic Disc label has been home to numerous blazing instrumental virtuosi; Sebastian’s style, for the most part, is the epitome of laid-back. But it is that meeting – sometimes halfway, sometimes leaning more to one side of the fence than the other – that makes this long-overdue reunion so special.
“I’m Satisfied,” by one of Sebastian’s chief influences, Mississippi John Hurt, is the perfect opener – relaxed but bouncy, showcasing Grisman’s sensitivity and economy and Sebastian’s rock-steady rhythm. At the other end of the spectrum, though, Grisman’s instrumental “EMD,” from the Quintet’s self-titled debut album, is reinvented – transformed from hard-charging neo-bluegrass to an airier melodic presentation, with John’s fingerpicked rhythm replacing Tony Rice’s fiery strumming.
As Sebastian admits in the liner notes, “I’ve never had much visibility as an instrumental virtuoso,” but he does what he does about as well as anyone out there doing it! And that’s just his guitar playing; he also pulls out his harmonica and baritone guitar, while Grisman doubles on mandola and banjo mandolin. Add to that the songs – the Spoonful’s “Coconut Grove” sits nicely alongside the Everly Brothers hit “Walk Right Back,” the standard “Deep Purple,” and the Grisman-Sebastian jam “Harmandola Blues” – and this is the kind of album that transports you to another place.
Your mileage may vary, but you’ll enjoy the ride.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan ’08 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.