4½ stars (out of 5)
By Larry Stephens
Carl Jackson is a man of many talents. He’s a songwriter (Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver’s classic “Little Mountain Church House,” for one), a singer, and a multi-instrumentalist. He started his professional career on the banjo playing for Jim & Jesse, and, after a couple of short interludes, joined Glen Campbell’s band for a twelve-year run. He has played as a session player with many great artists, a list far too long to reproduce here.
Grace Notes was a labor of love for him. In the introduction he tells us that many people close to him had urged him to make this CD for years. He is the only musician and the only vocals are a short explanation preceding each track. Listen and you’ll pick up tidbits of history that only some can own, such as how he played his mid-1800′s Martin Parlor guitar (the image is an example, not the actual guitar) on the Grammy-winning recording “How’s The World Treating You” by Alison Krauss and James Taylor. You can bet I’ll be listening closer next time I hear that song.
You won’t hear any unfamiliar songs: “Life’s Railway To Heaven,” “Amazing Grace,” “When We All Get To Heaven.” What you will hear is absolutely beautiful guitar renditions of gospel numbers.
I expect the people that listen to this will fall into three groups: those who just listen to and enjoy the music, paying little attention to the commentary; those who can hear the different tonal qualities of the guitars but don’t really care; and those who will spend hours appreciating the differences between a 1940 Martin D-18 and a 1929 Martin 00-21. The first group, especially, may be bothered by the hand squeaks that can be plainly heard. Those are just part of playing a guitar but you don’t hear them on an electric, since your recording element is isolated, and they are often disguised in acoustic music by the other instruments and vocals – but listen close and you’ll hear them. On a solo acoustic recording, one that I suspect was mic’d close and hot, there is no escaping them.
It’s hard to pick a favorite from this collection, but I especially like “Life’s Railway To Heaven,” played on a metal body 1932 National Duolian. That old guitar has some great bass tones. The one number I don’t much like is “I’ll Fly Away.” The finger-picking style he chose for this track obscures the melody line and he repeats an odd finger roll several times throughout the song. But that’s a minor distraction from an otherwise good recording.
It’s hard to imagine a CD like this having wide commercial appeal in today’s marketplace, but if you enjoy the guitar and gospel, music then you need to hear this CD.