"The Other Side"
Chris Hillman is best known as a rock bassist for the Byrds and a country-rock guitarist for the Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas and the Desert Rose Band, but he was a bluegrass mandolinist before he joined those bands and has mostly been a bluegrass mandolinist since he left. Hillman tries to resolve the different sides of his career on his new CD, "The Other Side," by revisiting four songs from those earlier bands in new string-band arrangements. Herb Pedersen, Hillman's teenage pal and Desert Rose bandmate, produced these bluegrass sessions, adding his signature banjo licks.
The album opens with "Eight Miles High," the Byrds' psychedelic-rock hit, whose droning harmonies and bending notes translate surprisingly easily to Gabe Witcher's fiddle and Sally Van Meter's dobro. "It Doesn't Matter," a song Hillman co-wrote with Stephen Stills for Manassas, retains its pell-mell momentum, even with Hillman's mandolin chop substituting for the absent drummer.
"Missing You" and "True Love," the two songs recycled from the Desert Rose Band, go from pop-country to bluegrass as if peeling off unnecessary clothes. Hillman and Steve Hill, who co-wrote "True Love," also co-wrote the album's eight new songs, mostly bluegrass-gospel numbers. But even these boast the stretched, modern harmonies and visionary lyrics that made "Eight Miles High" seem psychedelic.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Thursday at the Birchmere.