Fans of flatpicking guitar are as inclined to find the two guitar duo as the ideal place to practice their art as they are the fuller sound of a full bluegrass band. The lead lines don’t have to fight against a full rhythm section to be heard, and the soloist and accompanist roles can easily swap between them, utilizing different registers of the instrument.
This has long been true among guitar slingers whose passion is complicated fiddle tunes, and remains so as the flatpicking world expands to accept jazz and new acoustic sounds within the repertoire expected for steel string acoustic guitar.
You can barely ask for a better example than in Year Of The Dog from two of the brightest lights in the acoustic world, Grant Gordy and Ross Martin. Both have plied their trade as itinerant flatpickers for hire around the country, with Grant working with Darol Anger in Mr. Sun and Ross in The Matt Flinner Trio, as well as with their respective solo projects.
After opening with a lovely piece of Martin’s called Beacon, with something of a Norman Blake feel, the pair launch into some chamber bop with Bud Powell’s Celia from 1956 – which suits this two guitar setting beautifully. The transition seems perfectly sensible in the hands of these two master pickers, as stylistically odd it may read in print.
Next up is Gordy’s Storm Of The Century (Of The Week), a somewhat whimsical two-part fiddle tune that finds the guys trading eights and fours before merging into a funky, syncopated, almost-contrapuntal duet. Very tasty. Sweep, another from Ross, emerges as a tone poem with both guitars working arpeggiated rhythms. Grant’s As The Crow Flies follows, another fiddle tune with a strong gypsy element.
Before long, they are performing Bach’s 2-Part Invention No. 2, written as a keyboard exercise in the early 18th century and still studied and performed widely as duets among string, wind, and brass players worldwide. That’s staying power! Then you hear a screaming take on the Dixieland standard, Dear Old Dixie, more associated these days with the banjo, which gets a quirky reharmonization midway through before returning to form full of fiery demonstrations of Ross and Grant’s stunning command of their six strings.
Other strong cuts include a stately rendition of the Southern Gospel standard, Farther Along, where both pickers can show off their lyrical side, and a sprightly version of Snowflake Reel paired with Pat Metheny’s Bright Sized Life. The fiddle tune gets a nice twin treatment along with some spicy improvs across the B-part’s unexpected flatted six chord, and it folds sweetly into Metheny’s jazzy cut from his debut album in ’71.
They close with a gorgeous reading of the old show tune, I’ll Be Seeing You, whose lyrics (not included here) convey the loneliness and near-despair soldiers experienced during World War II. It was very popular during the ’40s, and these two capture the despondency and pain the song conveys instrumentally, not a simple thing to accomplish. The way Ross and Grant make jazz guitar work on acoustics is among the record’s most impressive features, done in a way that fans of more traditional folk guitar styles will surely appreciate as well.
Both of these men have a mastery of their instruments, and they allow their individual styles to show through across the tracks. Their tones are similar, but there are enough differences to make it interesting. For those keeping tabs, Ross is in the left channel and Grant in the right.
Year Of The Dog is available wherever fine music is sold. Anyone who takes pleasure in virtuosic guitar playing will enjoy it from tip to toe.