BRYAN SUTTON Not Too Far From The Tree (Sugar Hill)

For his third album, subtitled “A Collection Of Guitar Duets With Heroes & Friends”, Nashville session guitarist Bryan Sutton ferried his portable recording rig – lovingly detailed in the sleevenotes right down to the model numbers and positioning of the valve microphones used – to the dens, home studios and hotel rooms of the musicians who’d exerted the greatest influence on his own playing. However sincere his intentions, though, the result is an album of instrumental bluegrass guitar duets, which is inevitably going to prove something of a closed loop to outsiders. The farthest this listener had previously ventured in this particular direction is Jorma Kaukonen’s lovely (and, crucially I think, vocal) “Blue Country Heart”, but, really, it’s about as close to Sutton’s work as Dave Brubeck is to Miles Davis.

Sutton and his revered accompanists – names that even I recognised include Norman Blake, David Grier, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs and Doc Watson – twist their notes around each other like Möbius strips. There’s no room for egocentric grandstanding here: this music is much more like a conversation, with phrases questioning and answering each other, or bringing supporting evidence to the argument. Admittedly, for a smattering of tracks it’s brilliant and utterly entrancing, with a whole orchestral palette conjured up from just two acoustic guitars, but there’s a whole lotta album left once this early novelty has expired. You can’t help but admire the dexterity of the musicians involved, but all too often – for example during the mutters of approval that punctuate a hotel room performance of “Whiskey Before Breakfast” with Doc Watson – the album feels like a party to which the listener has been denied admittance.

One aspect of the album’s production that slightly concerned me was that Sutton’s booklet note readily admits to recording several takes of each tune and then editing the best bits together. You’d hardly tell from listening, as whatever patching he’s performed in no way interrupts the bubbling melodic flow, but nevertheless it seems an anathema to the down-home back porch ambience that he’s taken such great pains to capture.

“Not Too Far From The Tree” is a laudable project that can fascinate when being played, but which failed to ignite any more durable emotions in this non-specialist listener.