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Danny Roberts

Nighthawk – 2014 (Crossroads)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Danny Roberts

For the past decade or so, Danny Roberts has been well-known to bluegrass fans as the mandolin player for (and a founding member of) The Grascals, unquestionably one of the most successful bluegrass bands on the planet. That alone should establish his instrumental creds, and since he leaves the singing for the most part to his band mates, it would be a pretty good guess that his second solo effort, "Nighthawk" would be primarily an instrumental affair. Correct so far. However, given that bluegrass often tends to be a family affair, it should be no surprise that the cuts on the album featuring vocals would include his wife Andrea Roberts, who has a pretty solid resume of her own singing with high-profile bands like Special Consensus.

However, in the "chip off the old block" scheme of things (and with all due respect to Andrea, in this case she's in the role of the "old block"), the star is their 12-year-old daughter Jaelee who steals the show on "Oh, Atlanta," the Mick Ralphs/Bad Company tune of years gone by that helped catapult Alison Krauss to stardom when she covered it in the mid-1990s. The kid flat out nails it, and in his role as producer, dad wisely pares down the arrangement to his mandolin, Tim Surrett's bass and Tony Wray's guitar, not unlike Krauss' arrangement. It's a keeper.

As for the rest, Danny Roberts nicely avoids the common trap on instrumentally-oriented bluegrass discs of making everything too fast, too fancy, too everything. In fact, this is a nicely varied disc, from straight-ahead fare like "Derrington Drive" to the liltingly Celtic "Coppinger's Creek" to the self-descriptive "Swing-a-Long" (all of them Roberts compositions).

Perhaps the best cut, in the vein of "ess is more, is "Danielle's Waltz." Those who immerse themselves in bluegrass and old time music are often surprised to learn how fond instrumentalists of the caliber of Roberts and his Grascals sidekick Kristin Scott Thomas are of waltzes, but it's a big part of the tradition, and the two of them with just mandolin and banjo is just about as good as it gets.