“It’s a pretty waltz, if you don’t get out much,” remarked David Grier last night before bringing the light, lyrical phrasing of High Atop Princess Cove to life at the Kentucky Coffeetree Café in Frankfort. It was a typically unassuming remark from an artist who, over the course of two sets of solo guitar instrumentals, mixed learned folk traditions with commanding flatpicking technique.
But like the entire performance, there was nothing fussy or overdone about the tune. A “pretty waltz?” Yes, that’s exactly what it was. Similarly charming were several fiddle tunes reworked as guitar vehicles – including the show-opening Gold Rush and the Soldier’s Joy medley played near evening’s end. During the latter, Grier’s playing busted the speed limit, even to the point where he paused to take an audible exhale when the music’s more treacherous passages were successfully navigated. But that was as indulgent as the evening got.
Inspired by the likes of Doc Watson and Clarence White, both of whom he gave recognition to in an expert performance of Black Mountain Rag, Grier and his playing have long been celebrated in bluegrass circles. He also helped pioneer string music progression with such stylistic thrillseekers as Darol Anger and Mike Marshall in the celebrated Psychograss. But this fine Frankfort outing, a show made all the richer by the ultra cozy environment the Café was able to supply on a snowbound evening with temps in the teens, didn’t really polarize its stylistic preferences. When Grier’s music edged towards bluegrass, as it did on Whistling Rufus (another transposed fiddle tune), it did so in manner gingerly enough to keep his spotless guitar tone from sounding austere. When the concert fused sounds and styles, as in the blend of folk colors and twilight blues on Cascade, the resulting music focused on a strong, melodic center.
In short, this was an exhibition of taste. Grier may have possessed all the instrumental firepower necessary to become a well versed show-off. But within this intimate, house concert-like environment, his scholarly instrumental prowess glowed in more comforting and conversational terms.