Jerry Douglas: Glide

[21 August 2008]

By Juli Thanki

If it’s got strings, Jerry Douglas can play it. Hell, he’d probably be able to make music by strumming your shoestrings—that is, if you could stop tapping your foot to his 12th solo release, Glide. In between solo releases, he’s recorded with everyone from Ray Charles to Garth Brooks, and has spent the last decade as the dobro player for bluegrass supergroup Alison Krauss and Union Station. And, of course, let’s not forget his participation in the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, which turned thousands onto bluegrass and old time music.

For those with short attention spans and/or the obnoxious tendency to sing along, instrumental tracks can be a little boring. And unless you are Miles Davis, cutting an entire album of instrumentals always runs the risk of becoming merely background noise, with nothing to distinguish it from elevator music. However, instrumentals are clearly where Douglas’ strengths lie. He can say more in one dobro lick than an entire stable of thesaurus-toting Nashville songwriters churning out paint-by-number, radio-friendly hits for whatever interchangeable blondie is on the charts that week. The two tracks which feature sung lyrics serve mainly to highlight the superb musicianship of Douglas and his band. Far from being elevator music, Douglas et al genre-hop from bluegrass to modern country to New Orleans jazz, sounding perfectly at home in each style. 

On several tracks, Douglas enlists the help of some A-list pals. Travis Tritt lends his twangy baritone to a catchy, surprisingly upbeat song about debilitating drug addiction, “A Marriage Made in Hollywood”, once again proving that he is the most underrated and under-recognized “big name” country singer out there. If Toby Keith or Brad Paisley had the guts to sing this one, it’d be burning up the charts. If anything, “A Marriage Made in Hollywood” should become the de facto theme song for various celebrity trainwrecks and our sense of schadenfreude in said trainwrecks: “We all love tragedy / And it loves us too.”

Rodney Crowell performs his song “A Long Hard Road”, typical country fare about hard-luck folk, but with Crowell’s ear toward catchy, neotraditionalist turns of phrase. It’s probably Crowell’s best vocal work since his duet with Roseanne Cash, “It’s Such a Small World”, and the rich backing vocals of Douglas and Carmella Ramsey give the track depth.

Douglas also teams with Earl Scruggs and guitarist Tony Rice for a little slice of bluegrass heaven: a version of “Home Sweet Home”, a cut from seminal bluegrass record Foggy Mountain Banjo. Though Douglas can play myriad other styles, it’s bluegrass where he shines. On “Home Sweet Home”, his enthusiasm is tangible and infectious… the two living legends he’s playing with aren’t half bad themselves. This track alone is worth the price of the album; it’s such a treat to hear these three incredibly talented and innovative musicians offer a fresh take on a classic song.

Glide visits the other side of the American music spectrum with the album’s best track, “Sway”, a lively, Mardi Gras-style march—minus the drunken revelers and topless women. Whether this makes the song better or worse is entirely the opinion of the listener. Nevertheless, it’s a downloading must.

Diehard bluegrass fans and country traditionalists may not take to this album. After all, Douglas’ genre-bending and use of drums and horns is anything but traditional bluegrass. But those who can rise above their snobbish tendencies (sorry, hipsters, you’ve got nothing on bluegrassers when it comes to music snobbery) are in for a real treat.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/jerry-douglas-glide/