David Peterson is a rare combination: a savvy independent recording artist and a bluegrass singer who cherishes tradition. His voice has that lofty quality that carries from mountain-top to mountain-top. It’s powerful, complete and saturated with Bill Monroe and Jimmy Martin’s blues. A Boston native, he’s not somebody who would have been issued a bluegrass license at birth. But Peterson learned the music from a deacon at his church and and as music writer Robert Oermann likes to say, there’s nobody as zealous as a convert. When he got serious about the mandolin, the guitar and bluegrass music in 1995, he left his track from becoming a minister to pursue music. Now Dave preaches bluegrass with a missionary zeal.
He also writes songs, an important and challenging characteristic for a preserver of tradition. On the new CD, “In The Mountaintops To Roam,” you’ll hear him sing an insightful tour of the year that gave birth to bluegrass and to the name of Peterson’s band — “1946.” In it, Peterson offers up a rounded philosophy of life through exquisite observations about the virtues of a proud time in American history. Then he sparks the lonesome bluegrass chills with the completely absorbing “Mountain Tops To Roam”, a tune co-written with the abundantly talented Julie Lee. Among the well-chosen covers are the Delmore Brothers’ rarely-heard “Put Me On The Trail To Carolina”, Hank Snow’s “Golden Rocket” and two big-hearted Mac Wiseman songs — “Bluebirds Are Singing For Me” and “I’ll Still Write Your Name In The Sand.”
On that latter disc-leading cut, Peterson’s commitment to brave interpretation and the finest musical support becomes immediately clear. A three-generation triple fiddle section of Stuart Duncan, Buddy Spicher and Michael Cleveland kicks off the album with a virtual bluegrass fanfare. The album also profits from the contributions of the regular members of “1946”. Charlie Cushman’s banjo delivers drive, as well as the essential swing inherent in Monroe’s music, while mandolinist Mickey Boles matches Peterson’s intensity with daring and delightful tenor vocal harmonies. Dave calls it “an uncanny blend,” and he’s right.
It comes down to this. David Peterson and 1946 capture the essence of why bluegrass was so direct and compelling in its original form, and we’re still enjoying its complicated reverberations years later. In his music, you can count on hearing the sound of the Big Bang itself, and that makes him a worthy part of the American musical firmament.