Music

Jerry Douglas: Lookout for Hope

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr

Jerry Douglas

Lookout for Hope

Label: Sugar Hill
US Release Date: 2002-05-07
UK Release Date: 2002-05-06
Amazon
iTunes

On his latest album, Lookout for Hope, Jerry Douglas continues to explore the boundaries of new acoustic music with a number of well-known guests, including mandolinist Sam Bush, fiddler Stuart Duncan, and guitarist Bryan Sutton. The material runs the gauntlet from the gentler side of the Allman Brothers to the post-bop of guitarist Bill Frisell (whose composition provides the album's title) to a half dozen self-penned tunes. The arrangements vary from a bare bones approach -- just dobro -- to fuller ones that utilize drums and saxophone. Two pieces include vocals, one by Maura O'Connell and one by James Taylor. While the results are pleasing to the ears and will no doubt be pleasing to Douglas' many fans, the overall recording seems somewhat tepid and conservative compared to 1998's Restless on the Farm. The failings of Lookout for Hope also offer a good backdrop to understand some of the pitfalls of new acoustic music.

Douglas opens with Duane Allman's "Little Martha", as charming a piece as has ever been written for an acoustic instrument. Bassist Barry Bales joins in, and while this duo brings nothing new to the instrumental, it's nonetheless a charming version. "Little Martha" has a thing or two in common with "Monkey Let the Hogs Out," a minute long ditty that Douglas performs on a Kona guitar, and "Senia's Lament", a five-minute meditation conveyed by a delicate blend of dobro, bass, and percussion. But when both are compared to a jewel like "Little Martha", something is evidently missing. Though "pretty", these self-penned pieces lack the kind of individual structure-melody, hooks, etc.-that makes the Allman piece so memorable.

This lack of distinction is a reoccurring problem on Lookout for Hope, and the same quality of vagueness plagues a number of new acoustic writers. Changes in tempo or the presence of a vocal define a piece, not subtleties of composition. While both Rob Ickes' What It Is and Chris Thile's Not All Who Wonder Are Lost are enjoyable, one can listen to them multiple times and never recall specific tunes. One wishes that these musicians, who are virtuosos on their chosen instrument, did not also feel the burden to write.

This lack of individuality, however, doesn't mar every new acoustic album. Douglas wrote several keepers for 1998's Restless on the Farm, an eclectic album that exudes a certain sense of joy that brings to mind early Grisman and Rice albums. The rhythm that compels "Turkish Taffee" makes it a standout, but just as important is Douglas' decision to play lap steel as though it were an electric guitar. A similar approach-a carefully written composition and innovative arrangement-also informs "Passing the Bar" and "Takarasaka". Another important difference between this album and Lookout for Hope lies in the variety of arrangements. Where as Restless on the Farm intermingled dissimilar set-ups from track to track, much of Lookout for Hope plays it safe by sticking to a more uniform production. (Although arrangements vary quite a bit on Lookout for Hope, the choice of instruments are stylistically similar and designed for a smooth, overall blend.) Whereas the first approach highlights the individual quality of each piece, the latter approach downplays it.

One fears that Douglas' choice material leans too heavily to the rarefied air of post-bop jazz. This is especially true of Bill Frisell's "Lookout for Hope", a meandering mess that clocks in at ten minutes. The piece weaves in and out like a half-baked Grateful Dead jam, and one half-expects the band to break into "That's It for the Other One" at any moment. Psychograss recorded an equally disheveled version of "3rd Stone from the Sun" several years back, but the band's "just for the hell of it style", it's sense of fun, made the wild ride joyful. While the skill of everyone involved on Lookout for Hope is obvious, a sense of joy and excitement are missing. Somewhere in all of this artiness Douglas has lost the common touch that worked so well for him on past efforts.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.