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 Dan Dugmore, Off White Album (Double D Records)
by: Steve Horowitz

There have been cover albums of The Beatles ever since the British Invasion hit our shores in 1964. In the beginning these records, by artists like the cartoon characters The Chipmunks or the slick, lounge productions of the Hollywood Strings, were novelty items. As The Beatles matured, so did the caliber of the cover artists. By the seventies there were switched on electronic classical versions of the band's catalogue as well as rock and jazz releases by notable musicians like Duane Allman and Wes Montgomery. By the end of the 20th century there were dozens of Beatles cover albums as arcane as Cello Submarine, which, you guessed it, featured Beatles songs played on the cello to Nashville country music tributes to the Fab Four. Currently, the biggest underground hit CD is DJ Danger Mouse's mix of The Beatles' White Album with rapper Jay Z's The Black Album. The last thing anybody needs is one more copy of The Beatles' catalogue.

Or so I thought, but guitarist Dan Dugmore proves there's still plenty of enjoyment to be found in them old tunes. The versatile musician plays pedal steel, lap steel, dobro, electric and acoustic guitars, banjo and mandolin-indeed all the instruments, on his debut release, Off White Album, a collection of Beatles' songs. Oh Dugmore has recorded before and odds are that you own an album on which he's performed. He was part of Linda Ronstadt's and James Taylor's back-up bands during their heydays in the seventies and eighties and during that period played on hits by artists as varied Michael Martin Murphy and the Pointer Sisters, Englebert Humperdinck and David Crosby, Stevie Nicks and Bernadette Peters. Dugmore moved to Nashville from L.A. in the nineties and played on best-selling pop (i.e. Neil Diamond, Michael McDonald) and country (i.e. Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, Jr.) releases.

This ain't a Saturday night party record, but more of a Sunday morning make the coffee, get the paper, and cook the breakfast one. Dugmore plays the more subdued Beatles' songs such as "In My Life," "Eleanor Rigby," and "Fool On The Hill," and performs them slowly. He concentrates on the beauty of the melodies and the simplicity of the music's construction. Dugmore bends the notes gently on the steel, whose timbre frequently resembles the human voice. When he plays the opening notes to a song like "Julia" or "Blackbird," one can almost hear the sound of the words being formed.

Dugmore confidently exposes the simple splendor of the material. He refuses to pretty-up songs like "Across the Universe" and "Norwegian Wood" with trills and glissandos, but smoothly plays each separate note. Dugmore even makes fresh the somewhat soppy love songs like "Michelle," "Yesterday," and "Something" by performing the tunes straight, with only a minimum of ornamentation. While Dugmore yields to the temptation of recording a bird chirping in the background of "Blackbird," the most up-tempo song on the disc, he has the good sense most of the time to make the silence between the notes an important part of the record.

The hook is The Beatles' songs. Millions more have heard and love the British moppets than are familiar with Dugmore. But this record is really more for appreciators of instrumental stringed music than Fab Four fans. Dugmore's able techniques and splendid talents make these songs his.