Listen to David Grier's "The Gal I Left Behind Me" while you read!

By Josh Klemons

David Grier & Carlos Olmeda :: 07.28.06 :: Acoustic Expressions Music Store :: San Diego, CA

David Grier
I learned long ago to get excited when the old-timers show up to see the same shows as I do. It took an occasion or two, but I realized quite simply that they do not come out for anything that's less than amazing. Now I seek out music spots where I would be comfortable bringing my parents and their friends. Friday night, July 28th, in the backyard warehouse/living room of the Acoustic Expressions music store in San Diego was no exception. Grammy Award-winning flatpicker David Grier was on the bill, with an opening set by local singer/songwriter Carlos Olmeda, and "amazing" was the word that many were using to describe the evening.

Carlos describes himself as tri-cultural pop. He is a Puerto Rican who grew up in North Carolina and now lives in San Diego. He sings in Spanish and English interchangeably, sometimes during the course of the same song. He has spent a lot of time in Ireland and actually came across at times with a distinct Irish brogue. At one point he even sang in Spanish with his Irish accent. It was quite impressive. He is a big man with a powerful but surprisingly gentle voice and a delicate guitar style. When he talked about his music, he said that he was always a "channel changer." His style, while very much unique, took him through many different genres and ideas, but it all worked and the crowd of roughly sixty folks, about a third of whom were sitting on couches in the back, ate it up. The definite highlight of the set was an original titled "Suki-Pie," a song about his current girlfriend (he also had a lot of songs about previous girlfriends). It started with his signature sound, and then he took it into a very cool ragtime feel. The crowd loved him.

Carlos Olmeda
Then came the set for which we were all there. David Grier took the stage, which was furnished in part like a living room; there were plants on the two-foot high stage and an end table. I think that there may have even been a dresser in the back. All of this added nicely to the very intimate atmosphere that was built in the room. Clearly there was no one there who was not familiar with David's work, at least on some level. He took the stage, and the crowd got ready.

He opened with a melancholy piece he called "High Atop Princess Cove." It was pretty and set a nice tone, but on the next song he really opened up and showed us what he was made of. When you see a guy like David Grier for the first time, it can be confusing to the senses. If you were to listen but not see, you would swear that there were at least two people on stage. The lead lines were being played over bass lines, very often with an accompanying rhythm for good measure. It makes one think of a southern-fried Leo Kottke.

David Grier :: 07.28 by Josh Klemos
At one point, after a particularly impressive bluegrass tune, he put down his guitar and told us, "It's just that easy." Of course he had a smile in his voice when he said it, but you come to understand where he was coming from. Later on, he played one of several unnamed songs that he shared with us throughout the evening. He prefaced it by telling us that he had written it as a teenager. Without the disclaimer, I would not have been surprised if he had just written it that morning in his home in Nashville, TN, from where he had just flown in that evening. It was as intelligent and coherent as all of the other music that he played on this night. The point was that for some people, it really is just that easy.

One of the more impressive parts about his playing is his use of the "hybrid picking technique." Although David Grier is known far and wide – or at least as far and wide as any bluegrass guitar player can ever really be known – for his amazing flatpicking abilities, people are missing part of the genius therein. Hybrid picking involves playing with a flatpick and also playing with the middle and ring finger, and possibly even the pinky, at the same time. It is rare to see this technique utilized well, and it was one of many pleasures of the evening.

David Grier by Maria Camillo
He played a lot of originals along with a slew of old fiddle tunes, or what any bluegrass aficionado would refer to simply as "standards." He also threw in a few choice covers throughout the hour-and-a-half set that he shared with us. The first was a gorgeous chordal melody that would have made Joe Pass take notice. It began with "America the Beautiful," and then after one or two refrains, he changed gears and gave us a touching "Yesterday" by the Beatles. He joked that it was a song that could bring a tear to a glass eye. Later on in the night, he told us that we would all recognize this next one, and then he gave us one of the more interesting bluegrass arrangements of the night, playing a version of "Killing Me Softly" that put even Lauryn Hill to shame.

Throughout the show, I kept thinking that I was watching an amazing bluegrass guitar player who had clearly studied - formally or otherwise - the great jazz guitar players and had incorporated them into his style. As the show went on, however, I began to think that maybe I had it backwards. Maybe David Grier is really a jazz guitar player with a passion for bluegrass. Whichever the case may be, David is doing something like few others out there, and it is a site to be seen, a scene to be a heard, and overall, a guaranteed impressive show every time that he takes the stage. Whether he is playing alone, with Chris Thile, or with his band Psychograss, he is sure to expand the possibilities of what a man can do with an acoustic guitar, and for that alone, it is worth taking notice.

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[Published on: 8/16/06]

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breadloaf Thu 8/17/2006 07:41AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I would heartily encourage those of you who might be unfamiliar with David's playing to pick up one of his recordings or catch him live. He is one of the most gifted musicians you will ever come across.