One simply cannot talk about people of importance to this genre without tipping the hat to the most masterful musician, teacher, musicologist, producer, folklorist and preservationist of the traditional blues. By now, Stefan Grossman is a venerated, iconoclastic and respected acoustic blues figure of mega-proportions. He came out of the vibrant Greenwich Village, New York, 1960s scene around Washington Square, where so many American folk and blues musicians launched their careers. His friend and occasional collaborator, Steve Katz, formerly of the Even Dozen Jug Band, the Blues Project and Blood, Sweat & Tears, once half jokingly told this writer: “There we were, all these New York Jews playing the black blues.” Indeed, the blues had a strong influence on young New Yorkers during the folk revival. These musicians, Stefan Grossman, Happy & Artie Traum, Danny Kalb, and many others, in turn had a powerful influence on the acceptance of the blues by the American baby boomer generation at large; and, they significantly helped to launch the folk, roots & blues revival, thereby reinvigorating the careers of many original blues musicians whose careers had waned.
Many people know Stefan Grossman as the paramount teacher and entrepreneur in what has become the world’s largest “blues school”, Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop. He is one of the most skilled guitarists in the genre, having been a student of Rev. Gary Davis in New York City. He also picked up lessons directly from Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and others.
"This is the fourth recorded collaboration between acoustic guitarists John Renbourn and Stefan Grossman, recorded in 1987 and produced by Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones. As on its three predecessors, the appeal lies in the contrast between Renbourn's traditional British folk style and Grossman's jazz and folk-blues leanings. Ideally, as on 'Rites of Passage' and 'Keeper of the Vine,' Renbourn concentrates on an intricate, folk-based pattern that Grossman decorates with bluesy embellishments. The two have a previously expressed interest in adapting jazz classics to their two-guitar approach, and they do so here on the standard 'Round About Midnight,' then recall their earlier work on tunes by the late Charles Mingus with the mournful 'Farewell to Mr. Mingus.' Since they play differently, their guitar lines can be identified and appreciated separately even when they are intermingling." – All Music Guide
Many acoustic guitarists probably have some degree of acquaintance with the work of John Renbourn and Stefan Grossman, but for the unfamiliar, here's a short history: In the 1970s Stefan toured regularly, sometimes on double-bills with Renbourn. Fate stepped in when, through a promoter's error, it was advertised that these two legends-in-the-making would be performing guitar duets. Though they hadn't worked as a duo before, the guitarists decided to give it a go, and the seeds were planted for a series of fantastic duet albums. The playing on this album as well as Under The Volcano and their eponymous debut, is a fascinating melting pot of European and American musical styles, and the pair achieves a sound as elegant as it is expansive. Though their individual contributions to the world of guitar playing had been weighty before their partnership, these duet albums serve to take both guitarists' playing to new heights, and their enduring compositions still sound fresh today.
Track Listing: (click on tracks for mp3 sound samples)
(All the tunes are transcribed in tab/music in the 46 page PDF booklet on this CD.)
Review: If acoustic guitars dreamed dreams, The Three Kingdoms would be what they sound like. With thoughts to subconsciously mull and the room to roam them, Britain's John Renbourn (of Pentangle pedigree) and Brooklyn's Stefan Grossman (of Rev. Gary Davis, Son House affiliation) merely served as intermediaries for string reveries partly of this world and partly beyond. So captivated was John Paul Jones (of Led Zeppelin fame) that the rock thunder-god jumped at the chance to produce this amplifier-averse session in 1987. By then, the Renbourn/Grossman alliance was long road tested and thrice studio-recorded, so Kingdoms gathers quickly into a soft-spoken hurricane. Minor-key mysticism (title track), grooving circular logic (“Keeper Of The Vine”) and flyaway harmonic lift (“Rites Of Passage”) inform their duets, as melodies expand, contract and orbit around. They even dip into Monk's “'Round Midnight,” an impressionistic sea of tranquility. But never once does a human voice break the spell of these instrumental dialogues. (For the adventuresome, an embedded PDF file generously hands over the keys to the entire set in the form of a 46-page (!!) tab/music booklet.) – Dennis Rozanski/Blues Rag