Modern Mandolin: Beyond Bluegrass With Grisman, Thile and More

Yesterday I started talking about the mandolin, and I’m going to finish up today with a discussion of more modern mandolin players.

“Lesson” 7 – Grisman, Pt 2

Into outer space. This album – The David Grisman Quintet’s first record – is so damn good, and a huge innovation in acoustic music.

Tony Rice on guitar, who inherited Clarence White’s crown (and his guitar), Darol Anger on fiddle – so proficient and musical (although he went on to help create the whole new age music stuff), Todd Phillips on the second mandolin. Dude. So good.

I recommend you buy a physical copy of this album so you can look at how beautiful the instruments they play are. And listen and dream in mandolin.

Here is a later quintet with Mark O’Connor playing guitar:

Grisman with Stephane Grappelli (and Mark O’Connor and Mike Marshall)

bonus: the guitar player from the later quintet and the Grisman/Grappelli (also a genius fiddle player) Mark O’Connor playing a piece that allegedly inspired Chris Thile, who we will talk about soon:

(when I was eight years old I saw 13-year-old Mark O’Connor play fiddle and guitar at a bluegrass festival in Crockett, Texas. Later that year I started taking violin lessons. I only lasted about 18 months, but still)

“Lesson” 8 – Grisman Finale

The Garcia/Grisman records are almost perfect.

The first Garcia/Grisman record is part of the hippie bible.

Grisman and Garcia’s Shady Grove is one of my absolute favorite records of all time. Every track is really fun and there is a wide variety of tone and timbre. Here is the title track.

There’s a documentary called Grateful Dawg that I highly recommend. The shady grove part at the end, their first little jam session, Jerry’s just getting out and about after another trip to rehab, woof.

bonus: Grisman and Garcia with Bela Fleck at Squaw Valley:

Watching the movie and the Bela show gets me choked up. These are no longer musical moments geared to impress, but rather geared to express. These are world renowned musicians at the top of their ability playing for fun. In a short enough while you will be able to have just as much fun, and bring just as much pleasure to yourself or a roomful of friends.

“Lesson” 9 – Chris Thile

We’ll jump around a little bit with Chris. Soon, as you sit on your porch picking out tunes, in your head and heart, as you puzzle through “Ashokan Farewell and “Soldiers Joy”, you’ll feel as awesome as he does.

Thile at a pretty young age started the band Nickel Creek that did pretty traditional and highly marketable bluegrass derived country pop.

[The other two members of the band, Sean and Sara Watkins are super cool, also.]

Thile was always highly regarded for his musicianship. I remember seeing him play with John Hartford the year that John passed away. It was an incredible moment, and he was very reverent to the man.

Then heartbreak and divorce and the boredom of culturally imposed limitations (bluegrassers are a conservative lot) drove him to quit that gin mill, and now he has a band called Punch Brothers who are amazing.

“Wayside” is by Gillian Welch, btw.

and he gets to do stuff like this:

bonus: the movie How To Grow a Band about the Punch Brothers, and then The Blind Leaving the Blind, which is the first Punch Brothers album.

Part 10 – And a few others

Sam Bush comes up a lot – he was in New Grass Revival forever, which for a while included Bela Fleck, and then kept going from there. A super fellow with a lot of energy, enthusiasm, and amazing chops.

This is Bela Fleck’s band before he got all Flecktone. That’s Tony Rice on guitar, Mark O’Connor on fiddle, Bela on banjo, the unbelievable Jerry Douglas on dobro, and Sam Bush on mandolin.

Norman Blake is a very formidable multi-instrumentalist. I dig how the mandolin makes this song feel.

Ry Cooder is a big time hero, and this was my intro to blues mandolin

Louvin Brothers. Nothing fancy here, but Ira’s mandolin was an essential part of their sound. “Knoxville Girl”.

Mike Marshall comes up a lot, Matt Mundy played with Aquarium Rescue Unit, Sarah Jarosz is fantastic, but most of her songs that I like she doesn’t play mandolin, Sierra Hull is pretty impressive. I stumbled across this early clip of Sierra

Oh – Olga Egarova is Russian, and I have enjoyed many of her videos over the years – dynamite player

and more recently, Olga plays with loops and cool stuff.

So, there is a bunch of what I think is cool about the mandolin – what do you want to learn?

If you like mandolin, you will like the two Fence Sitters records, More Blue Than Green and Mission to Mars, as well as the Zirque Bois d’Arc record Songs About Russia.

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