Sam Bush,
Ice Caps: Peaks of Telluride
(Sugar Hill, 2000)

For over a quarter of a century, mandolinist extraordinaire Sam Bush has been making appearances at the Telluride, Colorado Bluegrass Festival, and this CD is crammed to the edges with his energetic and astonishing performances from the past ten years there. It's a killer of an album, from the saddled doggie on the front cover to the last note of music.

The first cut has only Bush and Jerry Douglas on Dylan's "Girl from the North Country," but the duo create a wonderfully rich and densely textured layer of sound. Sam sings great on this one, and Douglas's dobro playing is heavenly. "Big Mon" shows Bush equally adept on fiddle, and boasts great work by Jon Randall Stewart on guitar and Bela Fleck on banjo. The Bushman proves to be a fine power ballad singer as well in "Same Ol' River," a classic of a song. Again, there's overwhelming instrumental work by Douglas on lap steel and Fleck on banjo, and Bush lets loose with an awesome mandolin solo, both technically and emotionally adept.

"Angel to Be" gets a slightly different flavor from John Magnie's fine accordion solo, and we stray into bluesland with Sonny Landreth's "Speak of the Devil." Bush has a solid blues voice, and there's great support from Magnie, Stewart on electric guitar and "Jeffro Beck" on electric mandolin. There's a nice, catchy hook to "Memphis in the Meantime," a mainstream country song. Three fiddle tunes follow, all of which are slamdunks. "The Ice Caps Are Melting" leads eerily and evocatively into "Lee Highway Blues," which, not to mince words, kicks major ass.

On the final tracks, Bush gets back together with fellow New Grass Revival member John Cowan, and the combination makes the sparks fly. "Hungry for Your Love" and "Sailin' Shoes" give us the two singers with mando and bass, and the stripped down sound lets us hear Bush's mandolin artistry pure and unadorned. The vocal blend of these two men is also a true joy. The multi-talented Bush switches to lead guitar for "I Put a Spell on You" (the Leon Russell version), and while it's not the greatest lead guitar you've ever heard, it's good and solid. "Celebrate" grooves us into a nine-minute version of "Stingray," with Fleck and Bush doing some jaw-dropping jamming to end the CD.

If you're a Bushaholic, you won't have to be told twice to get this one. It's live Sam at his best, which is very good indeed. But be warned -- after a few listenings, you may feel the necessity to start socking away some money for the next Telluride festival....

[ by Chet Williamson ]

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