Jerry Douglas | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Jerry Douglas 

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Jerry Douglas has been playing Dobro since he was a child in eastern Ohio. In 1971, at age 15, he became a regular member of his father's bluegrass band, and two years later joined a leading "newgrass" revivalist outfit, the Country Gentlemen. Since then he's worked with a long list of roots-music stars, including J.D. Crowe, Ricky Skaggs, Earl Scruggs, and Alison Krauss; he's also released critically acclaimed albums under his own name on MCA, Rounder, and Sugar Hill, establishing a distinctive combination of harmonically daring playing and solid folk structures. And as if that weren't enough, he's also one of the most in-demand producers on the new-trad country scene, with clients such as Tim O'Brien, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, and Del McCoury. He even had a role in the O Brother, Where Art Thou? phenomenon: he helped recruit artists for the film's best-selling sound track, performed on three of its cuts, and traveled with the subsequent Down From the Mountain tour. Despite all this, though, he still doesn't have much mainstream recognition--perhaps in part because he doesn't sing--and this summer he's touring to support a disc of his own, Lookout for Hope (Sugar Hill), doubtless with an eye toward raising his profile. On "The Wild Rumpus," Douglas's contrapuntal lead line tumbles all over itself in a tone that's the slide-guitar equivalent of a hillbilly drawl; his melodies sound country fried too, but his subtle, dexterous shifts in meter and timbre give his playing an urbane sophistication. "Patrick Meets the Brickbats" showcases his stuttering, rapid-fire bluegrass picking, which he intensifies with a pitch-warping shimmer that evokes both the so-called blue note and the tonal play of electric rock guitar. The title tune, a Bill Frisell composition, opens with a series of percussive chords chopped off so crisply it's almost hard to pick out the notes; Douglas then unravels them into shape-shifting single-string slide lines that wend slowly upward. And "The Sinking Ship" earns its title with vivid sonic imagery: a bass drum pounds portentously in the background, like struggling turbines in a flooded engine room; Douglas's leads quiver and undulate like waves; and his serpentine, caterwauling free-form solo toward the song's end sounds like the captain's last desperate soliloquy as the waters close in. Sunday, June 2, 4 and 7 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mike Smith.

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