Dobro ace Jerry Douglas might have been expected to do some picking and grinning on the forthcoming Traveler. Happily, in keeping with the name, the album moves far afield of such easy assumptions. Credit Douglas for pushing his craft, even after playing on more than 1,500 records and collecting more than a dozen Grammys.
Recording in Nashville, New Orleans, New York and Banbury, U.K., with producer Russ Titelman, Douglas’ first solo release since 2009’s fun Jerry Christmas moves with a clever deftness through stomping blues asides, delicately executed folk songs, second-line Big Easy funk, even a scorching jazz-rock instrumental — with a smart sprinkling of the expected (though nevertheless involvingly virtuosic) heartland Americana asides in between. Douglas, who’s set to play the legendary Telluride Bluegrass Festival this weekend, brings along a similarly varied group of all-star buddies too — starting with the stalwart backing band of pianist Dr. John, banjo player Bela Fleck, harmony vocalist Del McCoury, mandolin player and singer Sam Bush, drummer Omar Hakim and bassist Viktor Krauss.
Douglas opens Traveler, due June 26, 2012 on eOne, with “On a Monday” from the legendary Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter — appearing as a singer for the first time on record. Douglas’ voice, craggly and raw with emotion, fits the prison song’s lyric perfectly. That’s actually the first of two strikingly memorable blues numbers, followed by “Something You Got,” which features a exquisitely pained vocal from Eric Clapton, who has rarely recorded a more committed turn at the mic.
A pair of Paul Simon-related moments provide another highlight on Traveler, with Simon himself dropping by to add rhythm guitar and high harmony vocals to “The Boxer,” featuring Mumford and Sons. Douglas later offers a deeply emotional exploration of Simon’s “American Tune.” Elsewhere, the album moves with old-pro aplomb from the New Orleans vibe of “High Blood Pressure,” which boasts a yowling vocal from Keb’ Mo'; “Frozen Fields,” highlighted by Alison Krauss’ eggshell-fragile singing; and “Right On Time,” this moment of sweet and tangy romanticism from Marc Cohn.
And just when the album seems as if it might be becoming too reliant on its hall of fame guest stars, Douglas elbows them out of the way with another cleverly constructed instrumental. There’s “So Here We Are,” a musical fusion of jazz and rock, which contrasts brilliantly with “Duke and Cookie,” a plucky, foggy-mountain shakedown. “Gone to Fortingall,” a ruminative Americana ballad, is juxtaposed with the closing “King Silkie,” a final, string-a-ding dash through the hillside.
In the end, Traveler definitively illustrates how adept Jerry Douglas is in both roles — as deeply simpatico co-hort, and as fame-worthy soloist. If you had any lingering doubts about whether he could do it all, well, that’s answered by the end of this album, too.
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Here’s a look at Jerry Douglas’ upcoming 2012 tour dates and venues …
June 23: Telluride, CO Telluride Bluegrass Festival‡
June 24: Telluride, CO Telluride Bluegrass Festival**
June 28: Antwerp, BELGUIM Queen Elizabeth Hall
June 30: Oslo, NORWAY Sommerfest*
July 2: Helsinki, FINLAND Finlandia*
July 4: Stockholm, SWEDEN Circus*
July 5: Gotherburg, SWEDEN Konserthuset*
July 7: Roskilde, DENMARK Roskilde Festival*
July 8: Rudolstadt, GERMANY Rudolstadt Festival*
July 9: Berlin, GERMANY Apostel-Paulus-Kirche*
July 11: Amsterdam, NETHERLANDS Carre*
July 12: Manchester, UK 02 Apollo*
July 14: Liverpool, UK Philharmonic Hall*
July 15: London, UK Hyde Park Festival*
July 27: Athens, GA Classic Center*
July 28: Charlotte, NC Uptown*
July 29: Floyd, VA Floydfest*
August 3: Sandpoint, ID Sandpoint Festival*
August 4: Woodinville, WA Chateau St. Michelle*
August 5: Goldendale, WA Maryhill Winery*
August 11: Ft. Collins, CO Bohemian Nights Festival*
August 12: Billings, MT Magic City Blues Festival*
August 24: Asheville, NC Biltmore*
August 25: Danville, KY Center for the Arts*
August 26: Aurora, IL Paramount Theatre*
September 2: Pagosa Springs, CO Four Corners Festival‡
September 7: Boulder, CO Chautaqua Auditorium‡
September 27: Santa Ynez, CA Samala Showroom*
September 28: Hanford, CA Hanford Civic Auditorium*
September 29: Mountain View, CA Shoreline Amphitheatre/Harmonyfest*
September 30: Rohnert Park, CA Green Music Center*
October 5-8: San Francisco, CA Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival‡
*Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas
†with Bryan Sutton, Tim O’Brien, Dennis Crouch and Casey Driessen
‡Jerry Douglas featuring Omar Hakim and Viktor Krauss