George Shuffler &
James Alan Shelton,
The Legacy Continues
(Copper Creek, 2000)

Here's a treat for lovers of guitar instrumentals. Masters from two generations come together for some incredible picking in this well-selected program of thirteen country, bluegrass and gospel tunes. George Shuffler may be best known for his guitar work on the classic Stanley Brothers sides, and Shelton has recorded several solo guitar CDs. Both use the difficult cross-picking style that Shuffler featured prominently in his recordings with the Stanleys and, as the liner notes point out, it is very difficult to tell the two men apart, so great is their skill.

From the first track, we are listening to guitar playing that is elegant, telling, profoundly simple and mysteriously complex. The melody voice is particularly intriguing in these tunes, as it isn't so much a solo line that rides above the accompaniment, but an individual line that's incorporated into the overall melodic and harmonic structure. Still, it always rings out clearly. At times, especially in the bass line of "Nobody's Business" and in "You Are My Flower" in the Carter Family Medley, I could hear the suggestion of Chet Atkins' superb picking, and if you can perform Atkins licks beautifully and make them part of your own musical webwork, that speaks worlds of your ability. The Carter medley is a real highlight of the album, with the high notes ringing like chimes above the melody of "Keep On the Sunny Side."

Even on ballads, the crosspicking style never lets the pickers slow their fingers down. "Nearer My God to Three" is done as a slow waltz, but instead of a steady "one-two-three," the first two beats contain a triplet, giving seven picked notes to the bar instead of three. Similarly, the quarter notes of a 4/4 song are all doubled, so that a fast four becomes an even faster eight. In "House of Gold," the first three quarter notes are triplets, so that four simple beats become "1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1." The pickers get even faster, with "When Our Lord Shall Come Again," on which they play as many as four tones in a single beat.

Although all the tracks make for fine listening, "No Letter in the Mail" boasts some dandy syncopation, with the lead being played off the beat. It's followed by "Old Leather," a Shuffler original, with some interesting key changes throughout, and chime-like high notes. "Six More Miles" lets Shuffler and Shelton trade licks back and forth, so that we can hear each one distinctly. Know what? They're both great.

As you listen to the last track, a medley of "Take Me in a Lifeboat" and "Sweet Bye and Bye," you can't help but be overwhelmed by the fact that there is so much skill here, displayed so effortlessly and with such grace. This is guitar-playing of the highest caliber, brilliant and beautiful and indispensable for those who love the art.

[ by Chet Williamson ]

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