Album Review of
Bluegrass in the Backwoods

Written by Joe Ross
September 12, 2014 - 12:00am EDT
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Harmonica is not one of your standard bluegrass instruments.  However, in the hands of a masterful harmonicat like David Naiditch, he continues to prove on his 2014 release, "Bluegrass in the Backwoods," that the instrument has great potential within the bluegrass genre. When properly played, fully chromatic instruments (capable of playing in all keys) like Naiditch's Seydel Saxony or Hohner CX-12 jazz models produce a bouncy lilt that can handle even the most intricate melody.

David Naiditch is well known in the Los Angeles music scene, and he's equally comfortable with blues, country, swing, and gypsy jazz as he is with bluegrass. Legendary bluesman Sonny Terry’s playing got him motivated to take up the instrument during his teen years. By the 1960s, Naiditch was teaching and performing throughout southern California. Fast forward to the mid-1990s, and we find David focusing on the chromatic harmonica, playing in all keys and improvising many styles of music. In 2005, he produced an eclectic album with 36 tunes called "Harmonica and Guitar Duets." His highly-acclaimed 2008 CD was "High Desert Bluegrass Sessions," and his lively 2011 release was "Bluegrass Harmonica."

When sweetly blown with Naiditch’s feeling and emotion, the chromatic harmonica blends nicely with fiddle, banjo, Dobro, mandolin, guitar and bass. Like on his previous releases, we hear some twin harmonica offering both melody and harmony on “Faded Love.” He introduces a second harmonica player (Jon Kip) at track 13 for the jazzy standard “Coquette,” originally recorded by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians in 1928. Naiditch and Kip trade some tasty licks. 

Naiditch selects both favorite and less oft-heard tunes. His bluegrass offerings come from Kenny Baker, Frank Wakefield, Bill Monroe, Andy Hall, and Doug Dillard. We also hear some delectable flavorings of Western, Swing and its offshoot Western Swing music (Gardenia Waltz, Little Rock Getaway, Montana Skies, Faded Love). “Montana Skies” is a contemporary Western Swing tune written by guitarist Raul Reynoso who plays with a band called New West. One track that incorporates some essences of new old-time music is the medley of Anita Anderson’s tunes, a hornpipe called “The Smooch on the Porch” followed by “Bus Stop Reel.”

As with his previous releases, Naiditch enlists many masterful instrumentalists to contribute on the project. For example, on a difficult tune like Doug Dillard’s “Jamboree,” we hear Rob Ickes’ Dobro, Christian Ward’s fiddle, Dennis Caplinger’s banjo, Sierra Hull’s mandolin, Jake Workman’s guitar, and Austin Ward’s bass.    

“Bluegrass in the Backwoods” is a jaunty, bouncy and pleasing instrumental album with a varied repertoire and presentation.  What a treat to hear chromatic harmonica within the bluegrass context! I always look forward to hearing what David Naiditch comes up with next. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)