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Buddy Spicher and Vassar Clements

Full Circle – 2001 (OMS)

Reviewed by Brad San Martin

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CDs by Buddy Spicher and Vassar Clements

Vassar Clements plays fiddle with such passion, sincerity and musicianship. The 73-year-old is such a remarkable creative mind that he can withstand every ham-fisted super-session clich+ that the producers throw at him and still make it sound musical, uplifting and honest.

As a testament to his lifetime of achievement, a simple, unadorned record free of special guests and all-star cameos would have been much more in line with Clements' modest, good nature. This takes the high road, though. Things that sound like a bad idea (such as John Cowan crowing a bluegrass version of Cream's "White Room") are redeemed by Clements' fiery imagination. Appearances by Peter Rowan, Ricky Skaggs and Jim & Jesse McReynolds are surprisingly lackluster. But Clements, ever the professional, manages to shine. His solo on "Your Love Is Like a Flower" alone warrants purchase of this album as he turns Skaggs' sleepy vocal into a memory with a clean, surprising flurry of notes that seamlessly encompass jazz, bluegrass, and innumerable traditional styles.

Clements' unflinching vitality saves this project, over and over again. But luckily he doesn't have to carry this alone - the core band of Bryan Sutton (guitar), Sam Bush (mandolin), Kevin Grant (bass) and the remarkable contributions of banjoist Anton Leos (check in out on Bill Monroe's "Tall Timber") make this an engaging listen. In the end, the assorted bells, whistles, and vocalists (not to mention the odd, unsettling mix) are merely distractions. Keep your ear tuned to the fiddle, and appreciate one of the most distinct and fascinating musicians in bluegrass' ever-growing galaxy.