Of course you don't need some rock hick to tell you this, but Joshua Bell sure can play the violin. Under his silken gaze and pillowed fingertips, the instrument puts forth a siren's call. Regardless of whether he's offering you a portion of Paganini or a dose of Gershwin, the Michael Jordan of concert violin consistently reconfirms his position as the concert hall's most gifted and singular voice.
So if the thought of a fancy boy getting his precious penny loafers muddy doing some finger-lickin' bluegrass strikes you as a tad, well, awkward, rest assured that Bell and fellow classicist (and Indiana U. alum) Edgar Meyer pull it off on Short Trip Home (Sony Classical). Anchored by the mandolin playing of New Grass Revival founder Sam Bush and the guitar work of Mike Marshall (who has played with David Grisman, Stephane Grappelli and Mark O'Connor, among many others), the music on the CD is warm and comfortable. The pseudo-proletarian string quartet (they do all play stringed instruments, you know) wisely avoids the contrivance of recording it in the field; the recordings suggest the stoic confines of the concert hall and as a result, places the music in an unfamiliar, but remarkably welcoming, context.