By Ted Silverman
"Since arriving in San Francisco roughly ten years ago, Chad Manning has shot through the roof of the local acoustic music scene and is currently touring and performing as part of the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience alongside the likes of the Dawg, Joe Craven, Jim Nunally, Bill Evans, David Thom, and David Grisman's talented bass playing son Sam.
Chad has just released his second full length CD, "Old Gnarly Oak," co-produced by Jim Nunally who also added his always tasteful guitar work to the project. Much like his first CD, "In the Midst," (which was produced under his previous stage name "Chad Manning") Chad has managed to assemble a world-class collection of sidemen who have ably added their talents to this sparkling collection of fiddle tunes, reels, breakdowns and waltzes. With eight originals and a well-chosen balance of five traditional numbers Chad lets the melodies and the musicians do the talking.
Some notable picking here from the likes of David Grisman, Bill Evans (banjo), Jim Nunally (guitar), Ivan Rosenberg (resophonic guitar & clawhammer banjo) and Cindy Browne (bass) enliven and propel Chad's compositions. Special guests include Rob Ikes (resophonic guitar), Scott Nygaard (guitar), and Chad's brother, Chris Clouse (tenor guitar).
With a cast of such enormous talent on hand it is a testament to Chad's innate skills as a fiddler that his double-stops, trills, slurs, Texas and bluegrass style fiddling and compositional efforts are not overshadowed by his sidemen, who's influence and signature sounds have been imprinted upon so many previous recordings. In specific, David Grisman's tone, touch and mellifluous style comes close to taking over some of these tracks but Chad dominates the proceedings with an easy grace and a dominant voice.
Standout tracks here include the opening number, "Fast Ruby (the slowest mule)," the swift and furious Bill Monroe chestnut, "Roanoke," which features the harmony fiddling of one of Chad's students, 16 year old wunderkind Annie Staninec, and the spacy, atmospheric, "Crimson Flats," which, at more than 6 minutes in length give the assemblage a chance to open the floodgates of their formidable talents.
"Old Gnarly Oak" is a pleasant diversion, a sonic sunbeam on a 4th of July picnic blanket, and as steady as the rolling of the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico. This music can stand the test of repeated spins without growing old in the digital Victrola. Chad's fiddling and his absorption of the American songbook canon ensures this CD will be a favorite of lovers of traditional and innovative fiddle based bluegrass instrumental music for years to come.