Strummin’ With the Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen

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With so many bluegrass “tributes” to rock and pop artists on the shelves, it was inevitable that the stars being saluted would eventually get into the act themselves. And so we have Strummin’ With the Devil, a collection of ’grassed-up Van Halen classics featuring the seminal hard-rock band’s flamboyant former lead singer, David Lee Roth.

The singer appears on two tracks here, both backed by the John Jorgensen Bluegrass Band. “Jamie’s Cryin’,” with its bluesy groove, proves a perfect fit for the acoustic treatment. But David Lee overwhelms “Jump,” whose spacious, staccato riff doesn’t quite suit the format.

That’s the main weakness of Strummin’: the chunky riffs that sounded so powerful when played by the very electric Van Halen sound a little thin when delivered by acoustic guitars and fiddles. The saving grace is that these songs were custom-built showcases for lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s fleet fingers, which means that the top-flight players in featured acts like Mountain Heart and Blue Highway get plenty of room to strut their stuff.

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