Unselfish player rightly takes spotlight

Glamour & Grits (Sugar Hill)

Sam Bush

By John Goodin

Sam Bush is the consummate team player. Whether in a band situation, an all-star gathering, or a casual jam session, Bush consistently uses his monster chops to make everyone look good. Glamour & Grits, only his second solo release in over 25 years of recording, is the first time he has chosen to make himself the focal point of a recording project, and it is a triumph.

It's all here: great playing, hot instrumentals, beautiful songs. A little reggae, some straight folk, a gospel tune, even a Newgrass-meets-Mahavishnu-in-Ireland number. All featuring the most soulful mandolin playing this side of Mr. Monroe himself.

Who's on the team? Eight cuts feature the core band of Sam, John Cowan (bass), Jon Randall (guitar) and Larry Atamanuik (drums). Bela Fleck joins on three of these, co-writing the opening and closing instrumentals. Al Kooper adds keyboards on Louisvillian Tim Krekel's "All Night Radio," and a solid cover of Bob Marley's "Is This Love?" Jerry Douglas adds dobro to Sam's guitar on Willis Alan Ramsey's "The Ballad of Spider John" and Mark W. Winchester plays acoustic bass on the slide mandolin showcase "Watson Allman."

What distinguishes Glamour & Grits from Sam's first solo outing, Late As Usual, isn't the blistering instrumentals but the six songs. Two, "Same Ol' River" and "Ol' Joe Clark", are real standouts; great lyrics, powerful performances. All of Sam's recordings, with his Newgrass Revival and with others, make a statement about the joy of playing music, but on this one the songs indicate a distinct vision that isn't always apparent in his earlier work. Maybe we're all just getting older, but it's this vision that makes Glamour & Grits special for me. That and the killer duel between Fleck and Bush during "Galway." In any event this is one that you don't want to miss.