Album Review

Various Artists - Strummin' With The Devil: The Southern Side Of Van Halen (A Tribute)

Various Artists - Strummin' With The Devil: The Southern Side Of Van Halen (A Tribute)

Bluegrass tributes are everywhere you step anymore, with pickers rushing to pay dobro homage to everyone from Dylan and Coldplay to AC/DC and Led Zeppelin. Just a matter of time 'til they got around to a smokin' Ozark mash-up honoring the hard rock legacy of Van Halen. Less a novelty than the Pink Floyd tribute (bluegrass version of "Astronomy Domine"? doesn't work on this or any planet), Strummin' With The Devil is a sampling of Van Halen's DLR-era hits; Like a hot poker hand, it sees Eddie Van Halen's guitar histrionics, and raises him. The John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band shreds "Jamie's Cryin'" in a way the original couldn't, running circles around the classic riff with bursts of agile violin, banjo and acoustic guitar shout-outs. Likewise, Blue Highway's melancholic take on "I'll Wait" peels back the distorted layers of Van Halen's chord structure, revealing complex melody. But where the brass gets a good shinin' is with the banjo mosh of "Eruption", the solo that cemented Eddie's guitar-god immortality. Dennis Caplinger, a bluegrass journeyman, goes thumb-to-thumb with Eddie's groundbreaking hammer-ons and will leave rock guitar players scratching their heads. Strummin' gets another kick in the overalls from former VH frontman David Lee Roth himself, who sits in on "Jump" and "Jamie's Cryin'". Roth gets bluegrass, and fits his arena-sized yee-haw/hee-haw between a Kentucky violin and a banjo as effortlessly as he does with Marshall stacks and feuding band members. Though played straight, Strummin' is rife with subtle cheekiness (courtesy Roth's legendary prose), especially when Iron Horse warbles, "my love is rotten to the core" in honey-sweet three-part harmony. Metal just got served. Maybe the hard rock community will answer back the way it did with rap. Hell, maybe this'll pave the way for Burl Ives: On Your Feet Or On Your Knees.