Panorama Review

Panorama # 0417

Lots of flashy flatpickers have come along since Doc Watson first unleashed “Black Mountain Rag” in the ‘60s, but David Grier is at the very top of the list. Here, the three-time International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitarist of the Year strongly leans in a “new acoustic” direction as he demonstrates the full range of his impressive chops and unpredictable imagination. The galloping, twisting “Impulsive” gets things going with a straight bluegrass treatment, but many of the tunes have more orchestrated, layered arrangements, with instruments fading in and out and playing in various combinations, creating shifting tonal colors as Grier’s guitar morphs among a variety of moods.

Producer Todd Phillips’ acoustic bass provides a rich, contrapuntal second voice to the overlapping leads on the rhythmically aggressive, if melodically limited “King Wilkies Run” and to Grier’s solo guitar on the swingy, jazz and blues-inflected “The Skeleton”. On “Apples and Oranges”, Grier seamlessly moves between fingerpicking and flatpicking, turning the feeling from bright, if somewhat melancholy, to dark and bluesy. “Ticklebelly Hill” and “Dead End”. However, quickly wander into the new acoustic ozone, with lots of atmosphere but again, too-little melody.

Fortunately, Panorama also contains relatively straightforward, though always inventive, readings of old-time tunes (“Forked Deer”,  “Peartree/Double File”). Grier gives Norman Blake’s “Jeff Davis” a dark undercurrent by simply stating the melody in the bass, doubling Bob Carlin’s plunky banjo, then Stuart Duncan’s understated fiddle, and providing a lesson in the virtues of spareness and simplicity.

The album’s biggest surprise comes several minutes after the last listed tune has faded away, when the music briefly returns, with some fine, bonus frailing by Carlin.

This may not be the Grier album I’ll return to recharge my flatpicking batteries, but it does provide further evidence of his consummate musicianship and command of the acoustic guitar as well as simply some ear-boggling playing. --MG

Weekly Wire
by Michael Henningsen

To simply say that David Grier is a flatpicker of enormous talent would be a travesty- an understatement of catastrophic proportion. For musicians like Grier, the instrument of choice (in this case a 1955 Martin D-18) is quite literally an extension of themselves. To be able to transpose mental music and execute it exactly in the physical and audible realm is a fantastic gift, one that Grier inherited from his father, Lamar, who played with Bill Monroe’s band. But even the extremely talented and instinctive players are faced with many and varied problems the instruments themselves present. The guitar, for instance, isn’t comfortable to manipulate, possesses less than perfect intonation and requires as much musical knowledge to master as it does motor skills. And to actually master the instrument is quite different from learning to play it, which just about anybody with enough determination can do. David Grier has conquered the guitar, become its respectful master and rules his kingdom with passion, precision, grace and humility. “Panorama”, aptly titled to reflect the broad range of styles it encompasses, is a startling work both from a technical standpoint and a spiritual perspective. Grier’s calculated passages and transitions sound effortless here, despite their technical intricacy and complexity. Grier moves as he pleases within the confines of the bluegrass tradition, making opportunities of boundaries while immersing himself in deep exploration of the genre. Featuring a handful of Grier’s original compositions interspersed with traditional tunes and some fine examples or bluegrass standards courtesy of Doc Watson and Norman Blake, “Panorama” is much more than a vehicle for Grier’s stunning virtuosity. Some of the finest bluegrass players of the day join him here for a remarkable exercise in ensemble playing. In fact, what is most refreshing about Grier’s latest release is that it’s alive with personality, humor, joy and conviction. Grier’s voice as a guitarist is marked by a fluidity and texture that most players only dream about. The relaxed, playful feel that Grier and company have achieved on “Panorama” speaks volumes about what the listening experience is meant to be with respect to any genre. And Grier, as is apparent here, is truly a champion of that cause.

-Michael Henningsen, December 1, 1997

Bluegrass Unlimited

David Grier continues to define the state of the art for guitar players in the 90s. On "Panorama", he stretches beyond the bounds of straight, hard-driving bluegrass into acoustic jazz and beyond. But he does this with an uncanny knack for keeping true to the melodic nature of the instrument.

It’s this ability which sets Grier apart from other guitar players. His bag of tricks works around the melodies in every type of music. Unlike many fast and showy guitar players, Grier rarely resorts to machine-gun runs and chromatic licks. From the quietly haunting Jeff Davis to the acoustic jazz King Wilkies Run, from the bluesy guitar and bass duet The Skeleton to the melodic Chinquapin Hunting and the funky Apples and Oranges, Grier plays with taste, timing and control. His imaginative phrasing and impeccable precision will stretch the minds of guitar players everywhere.

The more traditional flatpicking on "Panorama" catches my ear the most. Impulsive is an all-out bluegrass breakdown. Forked Deer reminds me of the very early guitar recordings of Dan Crary - clean, catchy and true to the melody, while the old-timey medley of Peartree and Double File pays worthy tribute to the Granddaddy of all flatpickers, Doc Watson.
I suspect it might well be impossible to make a bad recording with a supporting cast like the array of bluegrass all-stars here – Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Sam Bush and Mike Compton on mandolin, Bob Carlin and Craig Smith on banjo and Todd Phillips on bass. Then again, Grier is one of those bluegrass all-stars himself, and with Panorama, justifies every accolade afforded him. Worth of special mention is the stellar mandolin work Sam Bush gives us on tunes like Dead End.

If I have any criticism at all, it’s that some of the jazzier tunes are too long and lose focus. Then again, a lot of jazz is that way. Still, it’s a minor point when the playing is this good. If your taste runs to the very best in instrumental guitar work, then "Panorama" is for you.

Strongly recommended.

Published in Bluegrass Unlimited, April 1998. Written by Archie Warnock

Bluegrass Canada Magazine
by Hilary West

There's a stillness at the core of PANORAMA . The music is played out of the "zone"and exceeding the virtuosity of the musicians carves it's own identity. It has the limelight, the music is the star; Grier gives the music what it needs, and it isn't always the guitar. In "Jeff Davis" it;s a banjo - fiddle duet. In "King Wilkies Run" It's a mandolin - bass passage with the faintest hint of fiddle. That's followed by an inspired section of violin - bass; only later he gets back in and then the guitar is flavoured by an imperceptible dash of the Orient. He's everywhere on the instrument. You just kind of laugh in your mind when King Wilkie's finished running because that's when you realize you weren't breathing. One of the most profound elements of the project is the relationship between guitar and bass; David Grier and Todd Phillips. Musician and producer, artist and artist and fused philosophies. While Grier has his name in the big print on the label, the association between the two is inextricable. "The Skeleton" is a guitar bass duet but is also a partnership, the men and their musical psyche play off each other. So too "Ticklebelly Hill." The artistic feel and expression has such fluidity there must be a wind god inside it. There's a sway in the defining melody - the fiddle soars through it while the bass ever nimble, shapes a personality. I had to chuckle at "Apples and Oranges," it's like the story of men and women. It starts out all sweet and mellow with the guitar and bass, lets in a pretty little banjo break then here comes the fox on the guitar getting funkier and more determined by the second.  Very cool, very sly, not as innocent as it seems. The last number, the Grande Finale is "Dead End." It opens with long sensuous notes. The bass is so good, the fiddle is so fine, the mandolin is so... David is so... everything is so... surprising. This is a dream tune, as in R.E.M. required possible/probably so inspired. The way it works it shouldn't work, it shouldn't make sense but it does; the seemly disparate themes connecting and communicating like they do in dreams, the Jungians would love it. Just remember, it really is 6:02 minutes long. Brilliant.

Music Reviews Quarterly

Talented pickers like David Grier discovered quite a few years back that somewhere between jazz and bluegrass was an area which could utilize their skills and create a new sound which incorporated jazz's improvisation with bluegrass's standard patterns. Often called "newgrass," it's a sound which has seen some considerable talent applied to it, and David Grier certainly fits into that category. With Grier on PANORAMA  are a few other stalwarts of the genre - Sam Bush, Todd Phillips, Stuart Duncan, Mike Compton, Craig Smith, and Bob Carlin - and they establish immediately that PANORAMA is going to be a first-class outing as far as musicianship is concerned. Completely instrumental, completely acoustic, it is indeed a superb showcase of playing skills.

At this point it's tempting to say simply that PANORAMA  fits into the newgrass category, that it's superbly performed, and that it's like a good many other such style recordings out there by a talented corps of musicians. In one sense (and it's a fairly cruel sense), if you've heard one newgrass recording, you've heard them all. (And I know that the same could be said of every genre, and it's always said by people who don't particularly care for that genre.) As a listener who enjoys a good newgrass instrumental from time to time, but also as one who has started sensing a homogeneous tendency among many of them, I can say honestly that this one moves one notch above its peers in what it accomplishes. None of the melodies here are surprising for the genre, some have a folk leaning, some a jazz leaning, and some a bluegrass leaning. But at the core of each song is a jazz anchor that surfaces in one way or another and which gives the recording its distinction.

When Grier goes for straight jazz, as he does on the wonderful "The Skeleton," it becomes obvious how far this player has worked his music. The way he approaches jazz elements is refreshing as well; he uses them as coherent anchor points for nearly everything here, providing himself and other musicians solid meeting and departing points which test their skills and allow them room to maneuver. No one, Grier included, moves into areas too far removed from the main melody and rhythm lines, but just the slight detours they take make PANORAMA a recording worth pursuing.

Guitar players ought to love PANORAMA. It lives up to its name as far as its breadth, and Grier is a superb player. Every acoustic note is well-delivered, flashy only in it's substance. Non-guitarists  need not fear it, however. These are well-written, well-selected pieces, and they are so well-played that they are a pleasure well beyond their technical prowess. In short, even for someone like me who was getting a little jaded on the sameness of material coming from the newgrass camp, this is a standout effort. And the armchair-guitarist in me does a stop-and-wonder frequently as Grier fires off one of those how-does-he-do-that runs. Solid stuff intellectually
as well as from a pure listening standpoint, PANORAMA is a genuine keeper.

Flatpicking Guitar Magazine
By David McCarty
David Grier - Panorama
1997 Rounder RecordsPanorama
Review by David McCarty
Flatpicking Guitar Magazine, January/February 1998

Tunes: Impulsive, Jeff Davis, King Wilkies Run, The Skeleton, Forked Deer, Ticklebelly Hill, Apples and Oranges, Chinquapin Hunting, Pear Tree/Double File, Dead End

David Grier, the man with the Howdy Doody hair and the "how'd he do dat!'?" guitar wizardry, has released his richest, most complex and sophisticated work yet on "Panorama".

Backed by the always brilliant Stuart Duncan, Sam Bush, Mike Compton, Todd Phillips and Craig Smith, Grier produces 10 startling works ranging from the furious newgrass progression of "King Wilkies Run" to the hauntingly beautiful "Jeff Davis".

Perhaps the most impressive achievement here is David's chameleon-like ability to reinvent his guitar technique and melodic approach to provide a unique guitar sound on each tune, then using that sound to construct a unique musical vision. On "Forked Deer," his flatpicking carries a robust, traditional sound, while his melodic and rhythmic vision deconstructs the melody turning it back onto itself like a Mobius'curve to find hidden harmonic dimensions. "Apples and Oranges" finds him playing a fingerstyle-sounding piece based as much in blues forms and true bluegrass, adding yet another musical color to his flatpicking pallet(sic).

As on his utterly brilliant interpretation of "Old Ebenezer Scrooge" on the "True Life Blues" tribute album to Bill Monroe, David makes superb use of his right-hand string dampening technique on several cuts here, including the "hidden" alternative take of "Chinquapin Hunting" that emerges unlisted at the end of Track Ten.
"Dead End" reveals even more stylistic innovations, blazing through a Wes Montgomery- influenced series of octave licks that effectively fuse flatpicking guitar with the break-out sensibilities of the best jazz guitar.

Ultimately, though, "Panorama" emerges as something far more fulfilling and gracious than an album of great flatpicking guitar. In his sophisticated interplay with the supporting musicians here, the genuinely moving and memorable melodies on both his original and cover tunes, and his utter command of each note, tone and rhythm emerging from the guitar, David Grier shows the vision and power only the very best musicians in any genre ever achieve. Think of Clapton's "Layla", Clarence's "Appalachian Swing", Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue", and the original David Grisman Quintet album as examples of the kind of unified musical statement that I believe "Panorama" will one day be viewed as.

Bluegrass Now Magazine
By David Dees
David Grier - Panorama
1997 Rounder Records
Review by David Dees
Bluegrass Now Magazine, February, 1998

When music is produced by such talents as David Grier, Stuart Duncan, Sam Bush, Mike Compton, Bob Carlin, Craig Smith and Todd Phillips, you don't ask if it is good--you ask for more. This is David Grier's third solo project for Rounder, and accompanied by this stellar set of musicians, Grier performs tunes that range from traditional and old-time music to sophistaicated, contemporary bluegrass. These are musicians with whom Grier often performs in different venues, and the mutual comfort and fellowship can be sensed in the performances. Although there are only 10 cuts on the album, they constitute a generous 50 minutes of excellent music from seven musicians, each a master.

Some instrumentalists are immediatedly identifiable because they have a set of distinctive licks that they use frequently. This is not the case with David Grier. Grier is identifiable because of his overwhelming mastery of the guitar. It seems at times that there are no limitations on his capacity to produce the most delightful music. His attack can be fierce and aggressive one moment, then subtle and teasing at another, but throughout you can find the "three T's" of music: taste, timing and tone.

Six of the tunes are originals, including "The Skeleton", a bluesy number played primarily on the bass strings, "Impulsive", a quick-paced breakdown, and the jazzy "Dead End". Grier also continues his interest in old-time flavored tunes (Carroll Best's "Chinquapin Hunting", Norman Blake's "Jeff Davis", and Doc Watson's "Peartree/Double File". "King Wilkies Run" is a lengthy exploration of a descending melodic line, with Grier, Stuart Duncan and Sam Bush delivering some very complex but deceptively relaxed versions on a theme. The composition also makes a subtle connection to Bill Monroe, for David's father Lamar was a Blue Grass Boy banjoist in the 1960's, and 20 years before that, King Wilkie was Monroe's horse, featured on the cover of Monroe's Song Folio No. 1.

The sound that Grier gets from a guitar is astonishingly full and smooth, so comfortable to the ear that it's easy to overlook the incredible skill that creates it. Don't overlook this very enjoyable album.

Bluegrass Music News
by Steve Romanoski

David Grier has evolved into the undeniable leader of the progressive wing of guitar players without a lot of hype and hero worship that past masters have enjoyed during their rise. But it doesn't seem as if Grier is interested in all that glory stuff. He just puts down great tracks whenever he's called upon to step to front stage.

Grier's mastery of the guitar doesn't emanate from his intense control of a library of hot licks; flashy technique or new stylings of music to awe his audience. His magic arrives in the air because he has new musical ideas and means to express them. And that's exactly what PANORAMA does for the listener. PANORAMA is an instrumental recording which features many of the best players on the planet. But it's Grier's show from the first note to the final note of the CD. Grier illustrates many moods on this work. He cranks out bluegrass with the best of them as heard in the breakneck version of "Forked Deer." After the splendid intro, Grier simply allows the music to flow around his guitar like a soft and dense cloud. Then he breaks loose with some of the most imaginative guitar work I've ever heard. Grier floats about the neck to create delicate micro bits with Stuart Duncan's fiddle droning fiddle work. All in all, I'm hard pressed to remember when I've heard a finer version of this ol' tune. But all too many guitarists make their way through the world on speed alone. Grier demonstrates that he's more than flash in his rendition of Norman Blake's composition "Jeff Davis." Grier intros the number in trio with Bob Carlin's staccato banjo lines and bassist Todd Phillips. The ensemble greatly expands in size as Duncan enters the mix. Grier freely explores the number in the guitars lower register and remains fixed on delivering the melancholy nature of the tune without fail. This is a excellent example as to how even a simple tune can carry the session if the players are indicated.

PANORAMA covers a lot of ground with excursions into jazz and moody guitar pieces. But each selection is an absolute gem on their own and never moves into the mindless noodling that occurred during the jazz phase that engulfed bluegrass in the late 70's. David Grier takes hold of each melodic twist or rhythmic fragment and turns them into something truly special. This is a recording that brings back fond memories of the grand scale instrumental recordings that used to flourish in bluegrass and allowed the individual pickers an opportunity to show off their chops and build a reputation in the market. This work should floor the hot guitar players who really take the time to actually listen to Grier's musings and a period of joy for the mortals who just need good inventive music to pull them through a dark night.    

Steve Romanoski - Bluegrass Music News

Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Jim Zimmerschied

A panorama is an unobstructed view of a region in all directions. Perhaps the album bears this title because it presents the listener to a wide variety of tunes showing David Grier's guitar mastery in several musical motifs. Six of the ten tunes on this CD were written by Grier and cover a lot of ground musically. Since he has his roots in bluegrass music, it is not surprising to find a touch of bluegrass in a number of the tunes. But blues, jazz, and pop are also represented.

David is accompanied by a fine group of musicians on this album, "backup"
musicians is probably not correct in this context. Each arrangement brings out the talents of each of the musicians on the CD. There is Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Sam Bush and Mike Compton on mandolin, Bob Carlin and Craig Smith on banjo, and Todd Phillips on acoustic base. Together with Grier on lead guitar, they stir an interesting brew. Ten tunes would usually be considered skimpy for a CD album, however, some of the numbers such as King Wilkies Run are long (seven minutes), so you get your money's worth.

Impulsive is a bluegrass-flavored tune with some nice banjo work by Craig Smith, as well as Grier's impressive guitar work.

Jeff Davis is a Norman Blake tune with a simple melody line tastefully repeated, featuring a different instrument (fiddle, guitar, banjo) on lead.

King Wilkies Run is jazz-like and Grier manages to get an unamplified acoustic guitar sound like an electric.

The Skeleton has a mix of blues and Scott Joplin with a long acoustic bass solo.

Forked Deer is a traditional fiddle tune with a lot of hot flatpicking and some nice banjo work thrown in for spice.

Tickleberry Hill is a slow number with a mix somewhere between pop and bluegrass.

Apples and Oranges starts with a pop feel then slides over to blues then squeezes a little rock (no drums) into the pot. Who says don't mix apples up with oranges?

Chinquapin Hunting has an old-timey sound with some nice frailed banjo and mandolin leads, along with tasteful yet complex guitar work. Chinquapin is an edible dwarf chestnut.

Peartree/Doublefile are a complementary medley of traditional fiddle tunes with the fiddle, guitar, mandolin and banjo interplaying the leads.

Dead End is jazzgrass tune with a lot of bass and guitar exchange. At times Grier's guitar explodes with notes. The fiddle and mandolin are also featured in solos embedded in the piece.

That's the menu. I hope that it perks your appetite for some enjoyable acoustic music featuring one of the current best and most versatile guitarists that you will find anywhere.

Written for Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange by Jim Zimmerschied