Album Reviews: Macrodosing Stefan Grossman’s singer-songwriter development

My dad died last year. These are albums I grew up with as part of his record collection. He didn’t listen to them much then – I think he bought them in a phase where he wanted to become an excellent guitar player (he wouldn’t), I found handwritten annotations of chords and lyrics in the albums sleeves. Anyway, I am a piedmont blues enthusiasts, but I don’t think I would have come across Stefan Grossman, of all people, before Richard Thompson, Son House and all the other people he is connected to if it hadn’t been for my dad trying to learn more than just a few guitar chords in the early 1970s. Here’s to you, dad, and your weird treasure trove of elusive folk records I grew up on.

Anyhow, today’s macrodose starts with 1969’s The Gramercy Park Sheik, a nicely rounded, quiet record where Grossman made the transition from guitar instructor to blues specialist / folk troubadour. We continue with 1970’s Yazoo Basin Boogie, a purely instrumental, crystal-clear demonstration of ragtime guitar transcription and fingerpicking blues – it’s good. The most impressive of this bunch is the follow-up, 1970’s double album The Ragtime Cowboy Jew, on which Grossman tries out anything – piedmont blues, folk baroque, folk rock. He hung out with the British folk scene at the time and there’s a plethora of star power on here going completely unnoticed. Alas, Those Pleasant Days (1971) turns a wrong turn of folk troubadour whimsicalness. Hilariously, an uncredited Richard Thompson plays on this one.

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