At the Birchmere last night, Mike Auldridge played the dobro; Jimmy Arnold played everything else--or so it seemed.
Actually Auldridge and Arnold were more than ably supported by mandolinist Akira Otsuka, bassist Tom Gray and rhythm guitarist Al Petteway, but it was Arnold's dextrous switch-hitting on guitar, banjo, fiddle and harmonica that most often sparked the evening's jam session.
Though some may disagree, Arnold is a guitarist first and everything else runs a close second. True, he choked just the right notes from the harmonica; his fiddle lent a melancholy air to a Bob Wills ballad; an original banjo rag was crisp and infectious. But because Arnold favors tunes with a relaxed beat--such as "Nine Pound Hammer" and "Midnight Special" --his uncluttered guitar lines were especially impressive, allowing the music to breathe naturally and making his modest vocals seem all the more comfortable.
Auldridge is no slouch when it comes to playing the blues, either. There was more than the suggestion of Buck Graves' bluesy influence on some tunes, but more often Auldridge's playing was quite simply definitive. One of his more interesting contributions was "8 String Swing." As its name implies, the tune was played on an eight-string dobro, an instrument that produces an unusually lush and resonant tone.