"I have a long history of recording with companies that seem to be in the business of concealing music from the public," joked guitarist Dan Crary at the Birchmere. Admittedly, Crary's name is not a household word, but he nonetheless ranks among the nation's finest flat-pickers, a ranking no one in his right mind would have challenged last night.

The only drawback to Crary's solo performance was his understandable inability to duplicate the ensemble punch of his recordings with fiddler Byron Berline and banjo player John Hickman. There were, however, numerous compensations, beginning with Crary's striking virtuosity, his strong clear voice and his thoughtful choice of both original and traditional tunes.

On several pieces his fingers traveled a dozen frets in a blink, yet somehow each note remained unblurred, melodic and tied to the rhythmic pulse of the music. Flat-picking allows for such speed and precision, but Crary's runs often achieve something greater: the supple lines associated with finger-picking, a quality that was especially evident on Crary's lovely arrangement of the fiddle tune "Bonaparte's Retreat."

At one point, Crary halfheartedly exlained that flat-picking grew out of the boredom of the '50s. If that's the case, he and a handful of other contemporary guitarists have quickly elevated it to the level of folk art.