A simultaneous homage to and extension of the classic 1973 Old and in the Way album, Old and in the Gray reunites three principles from the original group (David Grisman, Vassar Clements and Peter Rowan) with banjoist/vocalist Herb Pedersen and bassist Bryn Bright. The ghost of departed Old and in the Way founder Jerry Garcia looms heavy, though not in a negative way: Garcia's palpable humanity and amicable spirit can be felt in every note.
Old and in the Gray, like its predecessor, is not a hot-pickin', hard-driving bluegrass group. Rather, they illuminate the warmth and soul that first drew them to bluegrass via relaxed, understated performances and playful, joyously unfettered interplay. By doing so, they have crafted a refreshingly honest gem. It's the ultimate context for the eclectic Rowan, as his more cosmic impulses are grounded by the earthy sincerity of his bandmates. And does anyone play fiddle like Vassar Clements? His exploratory zeal and creativity continues to become ever-more astonishing.
Mostly consisting of vintage repertoire, Old and in the Gray smoothly integrates a wide range of material. The rollicking take on "Honky Tonk Women" harkens back to the original group's cover of "Wild Horses," while "On the Old Kentucky Shore" and "Barefoot Nellie" show they got a way with the traditional stuff. A cynical sigh could be expressed when yet another cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty" is cut. Yet this exquisite version, with Pedersen's lonely vocal and delicate guitar front-and-center, makes the old warhorse seem new again. In the end, that's what this project is about: rediscovering bluegrass's potential for direct, touching emotion.