Sunday, October 11, 2015

Review - Dappled Grays - LAST NIGHT, TOMORROW!


This project should serve as a catalyst to advance The Dappled Grays to becoming a more nationally recognized Bluegrass/Americana group!

- Prescription Bluegrass Reviewer, Mark Raborn

The Dappled Grays latest CD, Last Night, Tomorrow, is predominantly an original work with eight of the cuts penned by members of the group. All tracks feature their formidable instrumental mastery, as well as their compositional, production and vocal savvy. If one must assign labels, the overall feel of the project is clearly ‘progressive’ Bluegrass, with jazz, folk and country influences; though some of the material, such as “Stayin Blues” and “Gone, But Not Forgotten”, is modern traditional Bluegrass.

From the intro of the opening cut, "Wild Things", (written by Leah Calvert and Michael Smith) one gets the sense they are about to hear something extraordinary. Leah Calvert begins with a percussive violin pattern surrounded by rolling guitar lines that is both a creative and effective introduction to her fabulous voice.

Leah’s violin playing is superb throughout the project, from subtle harmonic blending on “Stand In” and beautiful lead work on “Sundial”, to the hard-driving, up-tempo "Stayin Blues" and intricate and complex “Fish Scale”. Besides playing violin, Ms. Calvert does most of the lead vocal work.  She is more than adequately supported with precision harmonies and well constructed, artistically meaningful arrangements. I will try and restrain my exuberance for her lead vocals, but it will be difficult.  Her presentation is somewhere between the soulful sweetness and range of Alison Krauss and the tonal clarity and delicate character of Billie Holliday. That said, her voice possesses a unique, sometimes haunting, timbre that begs: why hasn’t she been signed to a major label? LAST NIGHT, TOMORROW is purchase-worthy on the strength of her vocals alone. 

It would be difficult for a project of this caliber to mine and harvest the best musical instincts and ingenuity without the metrical stability underneath. The tone and precision of Keith Morris’ bass playing is an integral part of LAST NIGHT, TOMORROW and I should add that providing that harmonic foundation, especially for this project, is no small undertaking. Morris achieves remarkable tone and his slides are ‘spot on,’ providing another layer of artistic cohesion I found enjoyable throughout the CD.

Banjo player, Greg Earnest, provides excellent back-up throughout the entire work. His lead breaks are clear, clean and tasteful with a style that works beautifully with the material and with the group. His intro on “Stayin Blues”, (by Image635801955456824995Michael Smith), is tight and driving with clear direction and purpose.  Greg also tackles more complex melodies, easily blending with the other instruments on “Where Do My Bluebird Fly?” His playing on “Sundial”, (penned by Calvert and Smith), Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies”, “Gone, But Not Forgotten” and “Stand In” (Leah Calvert) offer examples of his banjoistic creativity that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Michael Smith’s mandolin wizardry is another highlight of Last Night, Tomorrow. His playing is dizzyingly fast, clean, intricate, smooth and, occasionally, brilliant, but never frantic. Smith seems to have the rare ability to extract and communicate the musical and artistic value from one note, or many, which sounds complicated, yet comprehensible to the listener. Consider his work on ”Gone, But Not Forgotten”, “Last Night, Tomorrow”, “Wild Thing”, "Stand In”, and “The Trilogy” as examples of Smith’s level of melodic expression.

Casey Cook’s guitar playing is another of the standout performances on this project. His lead breaks are powerful, clean, soulful and appropriate. One example is his intro and lead breaks on “Where Do My Bluebird Fly?” (Cook also penned the title cut, “Last Night, Tomorrow” and the instrumental, “Wimbledon”) Another example of his extraordinary chops is his break on “Stayin Blues” and the third piece of "The Trilogy", “Fishscale”, (the rhythmically challenging Artie Traum creation, which some listeners will recognize from David Grisman’s Quintet album). Cook plays with maturity and class: an entertaining and engaging level of mastery that should have fans and students of the acoustic guitar circling with recording devices.

As you can probably tell by now, LAST NIGHT, TOMORROW is one of the very best CDs I have reviewed this year. I believe most Bluegrass consumers will enjoy this project on several levels, including the overall style and the quality of the presentation. The recording quality is on par with that of the better Bluegrass touring artists of our era and the musicianship, harmonies, lead vocals and other common considerations are equal to, or greater than those artists. This project should serve as a catalyst to advance The Dappled Grays to becoming a more nationally recognized Bluegrass/Americana group and I highly recommend its’ purchase by all fans of quality acoustic entertainment.


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