John Lowell & Ben Winship
Imagine two guys, sitting on the front porch with their instruments, trading songs. On Occupational Hazards John Lowell & Ben Winshipdo exactly that. The result is some of the purist, most direct music making I've heard in many years. Occupational Hazards is the second release by this duo under the moniker Growling Old Men. They also work together in the band Kane's River. On Occupational Hazards John Lowell plays guitar while Ben Winship handles mandolin and octave mandolin. They each contribute two original songs which seamlessly integrate with the other mostly traditional tunes. Both Winship and Lowell must have spent many hours listening to the great brother duos such as the Louvins and Delmores. On Occupational Hazards they nail the combination of tight harmonies and phrasing that made brother duets so popular throughout the history of American music. Their rendition of the Delmore Brother classic "Weary Day" typifies this simple to explain, yet difficult to execute performance style which combines lead and tenor into a dual lead part.
Not content to merely deliver note perfect vocal harmonies, Occupational Hazards also offers up a primer on traditional instrumental technique. Lowell's flatpicking guitar technique ranks among the cleanest and most lyrical you'll hear. Sure, he can play a lot of notes, but he never uses more notes than needed to complete a musical phrase. Ben Winship's mandolin work combines musical invention with a fine sense of traditional correctness. He can throw in a quick chromatic run, but he never strays too far from double-stops and pentatonic scales. The duet format allows Winship's mandolin and Lowell's guitar to stray further from their usual designated roles. If you spend some time listening carefully to Occupational Hazards you can pick up a lot of fresh ways to ornament bluegrass style.
The sonics on Occupational Hazards demonstrates how good a recording can sound when you use simple recording techniques and top-shelf gear. On the opening of "Georgia Buck" you can hear John and Ben waiting out a thunderstorm raging in the background. I love stuff like that. I have a simple crucible for a must-have CD; if when I put it on I have to stop whatever I'm doing and grab for an instrument, it qualifies. Occupational Hazards stops me in my tracks whenever one of its cuts comes around on my i-tunes player. Killer stuff.