Monday, August 26, 2013

Prescription Bluegrass Reviews Jacob Underwood’s Grass Clippings

Image635131250078776015Jacob Underwood is a talented and creative young man who has just released his inaugural CD, Grass Clippings.

This all-instrumental effort consists of five original pieces and five well-worn gems probably familiar to most folks in the Bluegrass community.

In addition to composing half of the recording titles, Jacob also plays all of the instruments, including banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar and bass.

Throughout the project, Jacob demonstrates a good sense of taste, as well as a command of his instruments. That said, there is virtually none of the slick and flashy playing I normally associate with instrumental recordings. There is also very little ‘drive’ and no strong mandolin chop. Rather, these renditions should appeal to a generally less sophisticated/less demanding listening group, such as those that might populate local and regional festivals and events. 

The primary instruments featured are banjo and fiddle, with occasional lead appearances by mandolin and guitar. However, I noticed a distinct lack of bass on most of the recording, which may have contributed to timing fluctuations on some of the pieces, as well as to the lack of perceived ‘drive’ I mentioned earlier.  Also, there are a few issues with the mix that a savvy producer might have corrected. 

The title cut, Grass Clippings, introduces the listener to his banjo playing prowess, as does his original tune, Attack of the Five String. Jacob chose to use a signal distorting device (i.e. phase shifter, etc.) on Little Maggie and The Legend of Falling Rock. I am far from being a Bluegrass “purist,” and I personally enjoy innovation, but historically the musical/listener value of distortion on banjo has been less than marginal.

Highlights include Jacob’s original tune, Bill and Kenny, which is a haunting melody befitting the commemoration of Bluegrass giants, Bill Monroe and Kenny Baker. Twinkle Little Star and Westphalia Waltz are traditional contest fiddle pieces he plays with exceptional accuracy and feel. East Tennessee Blues mostly features his mandolin skills and comes off nicely, as does Bill Monroe’s piece, Road to Columbus. His fiddling on both these is a nice highlight. 

With this debut project, Jacob Underwood has delivered a recording performance that demonstrates his level of instrumental and compositional proficiency at this relatively early stage in his life: He is indeed an accomplished musician. ‘Grass Clippings’ is a window to Jacob’s promising future as an acoustic instrumentalist, if that is the path he chooses; as well as an effort he can and should be proud. Most importantly, perhaps, this is a project his fans will certainly enjoy, as will anyone interested in following his musical career.


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