Nitty Gritty Surround (John McEuen and Jimmy Ibbotson)

John McEuen and Jimmy Ibbotson
Nitty Gritty Surround (DVD)
AIX Records AIX 80008

Technology can be a wonderful thing. Nitty Gritty Surround from John McEuen and Jimmy Ibbotson realizes the enormous potential of the DVD medium – high quality video, multiple camera angles, digital sound, several audio mixes and, best of all, some wonderful music in a live, “you are there” setting.

First things first – Nitty Gritty Surround captures a session at the Historic Fox Theater in Hanford, California featuring McEuen and Ibbotson surrounded by a stellar case of supporting musicians including Jennifer Warnes, Laurie Lewis, Tom Rozum, Phil Salazar and others. There’s no banter or dialog in the main tracks. Apparently, no audience was present – it’s a recording session, not a concert.

The session features a range of material, not much which could be classified as bluegrass, from the familiar Darcy Farrow with Ibbotson handling the lead vocals, to some mighty tasty instrumentals like Swing To Bop and two of John McEuen’s tunes – Moonlight Dancing and Acoustic Traveler. Of special note for bluegrass fans are the two cuts featuring Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum – Blue Days, Sleepless Nights and a stunning duet on The Oak And The Laurel.

The disk is packed with extras. One side of the disk is recorded for DVD-Video, with a 5.1 channel “audience mix” in Dolby Digital, and a 5.1 channel “stage mix” in DTS. Gearheads will have fun adding up the dollar value of the microphones on stage – stereo pairs of high-end microphones on most of the instruments, recorded directly to 24 bit digital recorder at 96 kHz. Not all of the tracks will be available on all players (the DTS audio track won’t play on my computer’s DVD drive, for example), but through a decent home theater system, the sound is nothing short of incredible – shimmering with crystal clarity and dynamic range, even a bit disconcerting at times since the surround sound places the listener in the center of the circle of musicians. The flip side of the disk is recorded for DVD-Audio, featuring a 5.1 channel full-bandwidth “stage mix” using MLP for DVD-Audio player, and a conventional, though full bandwidth, stereo mix. The disk also includes two separate video angles, some additional tracks featuring bios of the musicians, interviews, a collection of photos, even video footage of some backstage jamming and rehearsals.

This is an impressive display of the full capabilities of state-of-the-art recording equipment and the DVD medium, and features some of the finest musicians anywhere playing at the top of their form, all captured in incredible detail. The artists and AIX Records deserve credit for undertaking such a daunting task and pulling it off with style. If you want to know what the future can look and sound like, you owe it to yourself to nab this recording. It’s a sonic feast, a true tour-de-force.


AIX Records; 8455 Beverly Boulevard, Suite 500; West Hollywood, CA 90048
Published in Bluegrass Unlimited, September 2002. Used with permission.