David Naiditch has been known to joke that harmonica players are about as welcome at bluegrass festivals as the mosquitoes that come out to gnaw on the jammers. He may be right, though I suspect that he would be well received anywhere he goes in bluegrass.
Harmonica has never been a primary musical instrument in our music, though the reedy tone and vocal-like sustain makes it in many ways similar to the fiddle. With his new record, Bluegrass In The Backwoods, Naiditch has demonstrated that it is possible to blow the harp in a Kenny Baker style, and to play a fiddle tune as smoothly as any Blue Grass Boy.
Since the great folk scare in the 1960s David has been pursuing the instrument in the Los Angeles area, starting with blues on diatonic harmonicas before eventually moving to a thumb-operated chromatic harp on which he mastered country swing, Django Reinhardt-inspired Gypsy jazz, and bluegrass. He’s taught, performed and recorded in LA for quite some time and released his first bluegrass album, Bluegrass Harmonica, in 2010 tracked with Eric Uglum, Christian and Austin Ward, and Pat Cloud.
Bluegrass In The Backwoods is a tour-de-force with the harmonica taking the fiddle’s role on a string of classic, and typically very demanding fiddle tunes, assisted by some of the top instrumentals in bluegrass. Sierra Hull, Rob Ickes, Stuart Duncan, Dennis Caplinger, Ron Block, Jake Workman, Eric Uglum and the Wards all participate as Naiditch bows a big bunch of bluegrass.
>Several Kenny Baker classics are on the bill. In addition to the title track, there is Jerusalem Ridge, Lonesome Moonlight Waltz, and Road To Columbus. Though the last three are actually Bill Monroe compositions, Baker has left his mark on them all and David captures the smoothness and the lilt of his playing here. Also from Monroe comes Old Dangerfield which gets a fine rendition.
Other strong numbers include favorites like Little Rock Getaway, Faded Love and Gardenia Waltz.
It’s a very different sound for folks accustomed to hearing the bendy, slurry sort of harmonica associated with blues and country music. With the chromatic, and its ability to play all the same pitches of any other instrument, there is no need to overblow a reed to get specific notes, leaving a very fiddly sort of vibe.
All the playing is first rate, and even if you think you don’t like harmonica – or don’t think it belongs in bluegrass – give this one a listen. It’s a mighty catchy sound.