Sugar Hill Records, Inc.
P O Box 55300
Durham, NC 27717-5300
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Henry Koretzky
This recording contains an hour of explosive, twisted, and generally jaw-dropping musical mastery. If this is Psychograss, then sanity is highly overrated. That was my first reaction on listening to this instrumental collection featuring five of the most cutting-edge players that the progressive bluegrass world has to offer.
Three of the founding members of Psychograss return for this disc, the group's second project. Violinist Darol Anger, mandolin ace Mike Marshall, and bassist Todd Phillips are all alumni of the groundbreaking David Grisman Quintet. Each of them have established further credentials with groups like the Turtle Island String Quartet and the Modern Mandolin Quartet, as well as with solo projects and ventures as producers for a wide variety of acoustic artists. New to the band are Tony Trischka, the innovative banjoist who has several recordings out on Rounder (and who gave future Flecktone Bela Fleck some of his first banjo lessons) and guitar wizard David Grier, whose deft picking and idiosyncratic sense of time have fledgling pickers in the audience constantly muttering "How does he do it?"
The addition of Trischka and Grier (and perhaps the move from Windham Hill to Sugar Hill?) gives LIKE MINDS much more of a bluegrassy drive than their eponymous first CD. The rhythmic pulse of this Psychograss unit, combined with melodic tunes (all originals with the exception of the cover of Jimi Hendryx's "3rd Stone from the Sun"), make this music accessible to fans on both the traditional and progressive ends of the bluegrass spectrum. The arrangements are wonderfully diverse, with "Tree King Creek," the opening tune, a case in point. It kicks off with a seamless guitar/mandolin duet, then switches over to fiddle and banjo for a short span until the entire ensemble joins in, finally resolving with the return of the timeless fiddle/banjo dialogue. When instrumental breaks are paired up like this, the playing is so tight that the players seem to be Siamese twins. This is especially evident in the duets of longtime musical compadres Anger and Marshall on "Jeremy Reel" and the Warp 9 ending of "Ride the Wild Brains" (this last tune, incidentally, is the same piece previously recorded separately by Darol Anger and Jerry Douglas as "Ride the Wild Turkey"--maybe the turkey got its PhD?).
Other highlights of LIKE MINDS include Trischka's appropriately ghostly banjo break on "Creaking Tree" and Grier's typically inside-out, time-shifting solo on "Garlic & Sapphires." Phillips' bass-playing has a rich, fat tone to it, and he also contributes two of the most intriguing compositions on the CD: "Mind's Meat," a languid, melancholy piece with a jazz flavor; and "Big Monk," a tune that combines Bill Monroe's rhythmic strut and fiddlistic directness with Thelonius Monk's unpredictable melodic contortions. Trischka's medley of "Forgiven" and "Stuart Symington's Summer Song" opens with a gentle, wistful feel before progressing to a lively contemporary jig.
Psychograss has taken their quirky bluegrassy fusion to a higher level with their new recording. LIKE MINDS is an hour-plus of challenging and exhilarating acoustic instrumental music by five musicians playing at the peak of their considerable talents.
Edited by Kerry Dexter