Jerry Douglas, the world’s most renowned and in-demand dobro player, has a shelf of awards (including 13 Grammys), more than 2000 recording credits, and peer testimonials like John Fogerty proclaiming Douglas to be his favorite all-time musician. Calling in a fraction of the boatload of favors he’s owed, Douglas abets his standard rhythm section (bassist Viktor Krauss and drummer Omer Hakim) with a raft of luminaries on this bucket-list collection. If you’re going to cover Huey Smith‘s classic New Orleans tune, “High Blood Pressure,” why not put Dr. John on piano and have Keb’ Mo’ do the vocals? Precious few artists could not only bring in Paul Simon to reprise Simon’s “The Boxer,” but the boys from Mumford & Sons besides. There are mega-stars like Simon and Eric Clapton, niche stars like Dr. John, Alison Krauss and Keb’ Mo’, and ace session-men like pianist Jon Cleary and Sam Bush on mandolin.
And yet the best stuff here occurs when Douglas is the one in the spotlight. He galvanizes the mix on slide, lap steel and resonator guitar as well as dobro, fueling originals like “Gone To Fortingall” (an English-folk tune that will resonate with Richard Thompson and Fairport Convention fans) and “Duke and Cookie” (a profound mating of funk and bluegrass via a duet with Bush). He cuts loose on a tour-de-force interpolation of Simon’s “American Tune” and Chick Corea‘s “Spain,” delivers a better-than-credible vocal on the opening Leadbelly cover, “On A Monday,” and sets up vocalist Marc Cohn with a gorgeous, lazy-river groove on “Right On Time.” The main flaw on Traveler is that it occasionally sacrifices unpredictability for high-level proficiencyâ€”none of the guests want to risk the type of spontaneity that might fall below the high bar Douglas sets musically. On the other hand, from start to finish, they sweat the detailsâ€”and those details are exquisite.