- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Bluegrass with no banjo?

That’s what former Byrd Chris Hillman brought to the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria Thursday night. The singer-songwriter earned his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a bass player on the cutting edge of country rock, but he has since turned back to his roots on bluegrass mandolin.

With compadres Herb Pedersen on rhythm guitar, Bill Bryson on bass and Larry Park on lead guitar, Mr. Hillman laced together 20 songs from his years with the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Desert Rose Band as well as current compositions.

Although Mr. Pedersen is widely known for his banjo playing as well as his songwriting — having composed the Seldom Scene’s signature song “Wait a Minute,” which he sang Thursday evening — he played only guitar and harmonized vocally throughout the set with Mr. Hillman, who swapped his mandolin for a guitar on a couple of songs.

The California-based quartet brought to the stage former Seldom Scene guitarist John Starling and resophonic guitarist Mike Auldridge — Washington-based performers who opened the show with a set from their new band, Reflections Ridge.

Together they harmonized on the Gram Parsons standard “Sin City,” illustrating where East meets West in bluegrass circles. All were acquainted with Mr. Parsons in the early 1970s.

Reflections Ridge, which also includes former Seldom Scene bass player Tom Gray, started the banjo-free bluegrass evening with about an hour of songs, featuring Jimmy Gaudreau on mandolin and mandola and Rickie Simpkins on fiddle and mandolin — twisting several twin mandolin tunes together. The band played Mr. Parsons’ “In My Hour of Darkness” as well as songs from such disparate songwriters as Jimmie Rodgers, Ricky Skaggs and Michael Nesmith.

Mr. Hillman performed Byrds-grass versions of Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn” and Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” He also performed a half-dozen songs from his current CD, “The Other Side,” including the title track, closing with an encore of “Eight Miles High,” the Byrds classic that opens the CD — his seventh as a solo artist since 1995.

Traditional material and bluegrass standards were sprinkled throughout the program. The band opened with “Bury Me Beneath the Willow” and performed “Crossroads” and “A Good Woman’s Love,” songs most often associated with bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe. They also took a turn at standards from the Stanley Brothers, “Little Birdie,” and the Louvin Brothers, “If I Could Only Win Your Love.”

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