Painted Mandolin

REVIEW: Painted Mandolin “Sweet Rain”


Painted Mandolin – Sweet Rain

This Santa Cruz, CA musical debut is according to the PR inspired by the Grateful Dead as a jam grass acoustic band. The LP is being released on what would have been Jerry Garcia’s 81st birthday. The 7 tracks were produced by Joe Craven (Jerry Garcia, Stephane Grappelli, David Grisman, David Lindley & Alison Brown) on Sweet Rain (Drops Aug 1–Blender Logic Arts).

Painted Mandolin

This 44-minute LP has bluegrass charm with a little old-fashioned Kingston Trio-styled vocalizing with instrumentation similar to Jerry Garcia, Peter Rowan & David Grisman’s Old And In the Way. “Sweet Rain,” has all that interplaying finesse. The song is well recorded with clean passages & sophisticated jamming, not the meandering type on so many Grateful Dead live sets.

The majority of the tunes are upbeat & while they conjure an era long behind us the 4 prime members do a fine job keeping the spirit alive. The music doesn’t sound retro since it’s not that kind of musical examination. It’s definitely of today just looking back on the nature of music intended by those past musicians. There’s far more to Jerry Garcia as a musician than the path he toiled on with The Grateful Dead. That’s basically what Painted Mandolin captures here.

None of the singers have that hippie-cum-bluegrass vocal tone that Jerry possessed, though they do at times resemble Hot Tuna. The vocals are commendable & they establish themselves with distinguished music first & image second.

Despite tunes being a little on the long side there’s never any lag in the performances. If they got just a little more intense, surreal, cosmic & exploratory they would be a good substitute for The Dead in its more melodic earlier “Workingman’s Dead” era. But they would need a Robert Hunter or John Perry Barlow to squeeze out the poetic madness.

The group on this CD comes close to a GD shadow with “Bird Dreams.” A curious piece because it has those overtones I had suggested. This is quite cool – the arrangement, vocals & sublime playing capture the atmosphere effectively & Larry Graff’s words without Robert Hunter. The fiddle playing on the cut is mindful of Sea Train’s Richard Greene. A wonderful addition made even more sweet with the finale having a slight Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young vocal conclusion. Clever or purely accidental.

Highlights – “Sweet Rain,” “Love In A Rose,” “Shine On,” “Mather,” “Bird Dreams” & “Northern California Banjo Hound.”

Musicians – Joe Craven (mandolin/fiddle/hand & mouth percussion/violin/vocals), Larry Graff (guitar/vocals), Matt Hartle (guitar/banjortar/vocals), Dan Robbins (upright bass) with guests — Terry Shields (bass), Sarah Larkin, Sarah Ryan, Pico & Rita Hosking (vocals), Cindy Bacon (gong)

Color image courtesy of the Painted Mandolin website. CD @


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