Few instruments — and even fewer instrumentalists — can develop melodies with the flowing quality of the human voice. But the slide guitar’s way of gliding from note to note accords it that grace. And when it’s in the hands of a master of technique, tone, and taste like Jerry Douglas, the results are lovely and staggering. Staggering when Douglas — who’s long been a first-call Nashville session musician — burns through a bluegrass fingerbuster like "Patrick Meets the Brickbats"; lovely when he dives into a slow-flowing melody like Duane Allman’s "Little Martha" or teams with Irish country chanteuse Maura O’Connell for "Footsteps Fall."
Douglas’s specific ax is the acoustic resonator guitar, often called the dobro (after the Dopyera Brothers, who invented it in 1926). His take on the instrument allows such un-slide moves as hammer-ons and pull-offs, and a sensibility that stretches from mountain spirituals ("In the Sweet By and By") to a complex jazz-classical composition by Bill Frisell (the title number). He’s no slouch as a composer himself: his own "Cave Bop" rips with a vigor and invention that conjures Charlie Parker, and his Maurice Sendak–inspired "The Wild Rumpus" has the energy and humor of little Max’s frolic on the Wild Things’ island. But through it all Douglas maintains a sweet mellow tone that could soothe even the most savage beast. Which makes this a great chill album that’s also quick on its feet.