Bluegrass musicians often stretch the boundaries of the genre, using their chosen instruments to mix their traditional backgrounds with new and different styles of music. Sometimes this results in an interesting concert, a unique collaboration, or simply some fun jams. Other times, it produces an excellent album in which the bluegrass musician and his instrument sound right at home in any of a variety of genres. With his new album, Traveler, released today, Jerry Douglas has accomplished the latter.
Traveler offers the listener a grab bag of musical styles, ranging from bluegrass to blues, with Celtic, folk, and rock influences mixed into various songs. Douglas has assembled an all-star list of guest musicians and vocalists from every genre present, including Sam Bush, Eric Clapton, Keb’Mo, Bela Fleck, Paul Simon, Mumford and Sons, and Alison Krauss and Union Station. Five tracks are instrumentals, with Douglas’s dobro and lap steel featured prominently. Douglas even makes his debut as a lead vocalist on the opening track, a cover of Leadbelly’s On a Monday that sounds like it came straight out of the Mississippi Delta.
Even though the numerous sounds on Traveler may seem like they shouldn’t fit together, Douglas and his group of guest artists have created a cohesive album, with the different styles helping to keep the album fresh. Peaceful sounding folk tunes such as The Boxer, written by Paul and Simon and featuring British folk rock group Mumford and Sons sit alongside the jazzy piano and horns of blues numbers like High Blood Pressure.
The album also includes several pieces with a bluegrass influence, like the mandolin/dobro tune Duke and Cookie, composed and performed by Douglas and Bush. Fans of more traditional bluegrass will enjoy the album’s closing track, King Silkie, which was co-written by Douglas and Dan Tyminksi and is driven by Douglas’s dobro and Charlie Cushman’s banjo.
Though most bluegrass fans will recognize Douglas’s expertise on the dobro (he has been named “Musician of the Year” eleven times from the ACM and three times from the CMA), he also shows his skills on the lap steel, particularly with the original instrumental tune So Here We Are. Composed with Viktor Krauss and Omar Hakim, who play bass and drums on the track respectively, the song features amazing solos which seem to have a bit of an ’80s rock influence.
Traveler seems to be appropriately titled, having been recorded in a variety of cities across both the United States and the world, ranging from Nashville and New Orleans to New York and Banbury, United Kingdom. The album’s liner notes reflect this, being designed like a passport and featuring “stamps” for each of the album’s songs. Douglas will also continue the traveling theme with his summer and fall tour, which takes him not only around the United States but also to such European countries as Belgium, Norway, and Sweden.
While he has been quite active in serving as a guest musician on other artist’s recordings (even having participated in over 20,000 recordings in his lifetime), Traveler is Douglas’s first solo release since 2009’s Jerry Christmas!.
For more information, visit Douglas’ website at www.jerrydouglas.com.