VARIOUS ARTISTS – Strummin’ with the Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen

Strummin' with the Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen


CMH Records
Release date: June 6, 2006

User Review
0/10 (0 votes)

In 1986, when David Lee Roth left Van Halen, many overzealous fans cried, “Van Halen is dead!” When Sammy Hagar departed ten years later — after more multi-platinum albums — many of the same(!) fans cried, “Okay, Van Halen is really dead, this time.” Indeed, according to the traditionalists, the nails in the coffin lid were finally hammered in when Gary Cherone left (or should that be, joined?).

Jump ahead to 2006… the release of Strummin’ with the Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen, a Bluegrass tribute by various artists, featuring “Diamond” Dave on two Van Halen classics. This release will undoubtedly have some of the Van Halen purists claiming an outright moral injustice, as if somebody were digging up somebody’s sacred burial grounds. But, in fact, “Jump” never sounded so good.

The album opens with Roth singing on “Jump” and “Jamie’s Cryin’.” “Jump,” arguably the cheesiest Van Halen song ever (and their biggest commercial success, incidentally), has finally been given proper treatment, Bluegrass style. The keyboard blandness from the original is gone, and the John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band gives the tune a snappy blend of banjo, fiddle, dobro, acoustic guitar, and bass. Roth’s catchy vocal part is virtually the same as on the original. The cover of “Jamie’s Cryin'” is more than a departure from the original instrumentation. This arrangement has the smooth, laidback feel of a warm summer breeze, along the order of the Doobie Brother’s “Black Water.” It features a sweet violin lead by Stuart Duncan, and the album’s full-length version of the song (there’s also a radio edit) includes a double-time jam towards the end. This cover goes into an entirely different realm through superb arrangement and performance.

A Metal music reviewer’s homework was never quite like this. An instrumental version of “Hot for Teacher,” with a fiddle standing in for the vocal line, acoustic guitar on rhythm, and mandolin on lead, retains the catchiness of the original and adds its own liveliness, to boot. In fact, picture some cowboy boots on that girl in the Van Halen video, and you’ve got the idea. “Runnin’ with the Devil” is another highlight, thanks to impressive vocals by John Cown. “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” has the minor-key feel of Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” “Unchained,” despite the absence of the original’s classic guitar riff, offers expert mandolin and banjo picking plus tight vocal harmonies, giving it the motion of a well-fueled train. “Ice Cream Man,” not a Van Halen original, doesn’t really take from Van Halen’s version, but it provides enjoyable contrast as the only Blues tune on the album.

On the downside, “Feel Your Love Tonight” loses a piece of its original identity, Edward’s guitar riff, but the backing vocals are a refreshing improvement over the original. “Panama” is in the same position, without the guitar part. Some riffs are so integral to the guitar sound and playing style for which they were originally written, that playing the riff on a different instrument takes away the original essence that made it so appealing.

“Could This Be Magic?” is the most country-bumpkinish tune on this album (and no less on Van Halen albums, along with “Happy Trails,” of course). “Eruption,” already tired and dated in its original form, was not reborn by having a banjo play those stale arpeggios. “I’ll Wait,” not exactly a Van Halen classic in the first place, was not made any more palatable by this acoustic arrangement. “And the Cradle Will Rock,” despite great musicianship, comes off a little too reminiscent of the theme song from the Beverly Hillbillies TV show. “Dance the Night Away” can be taken or left, pretty much like the original.

Edward Van Halen’s influence is proving to reach beyond the electric guitar arena. According to Brad Davis of the John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band, he employs a technique on acoustic guitar that involves a down-down-up picking pattern with his right hand that parallels a two-handed tapping pattern of Eddie’s, in which the second of three beats is accented. Guitar fans can listen for this technique as well as appreciate all of the slick pickin’ and strummin’ throughout the album.

Certainly, Van Halen fans are still praying for a viable reincarnation of the band — meaning, one with a charismatic singer whom Edward won’t reject as having a problem, as he would say, with LSD — “Lead Singer’s Disease.” While fans look forward to that day, they can take a look back, on Strummin’ with the Devil, which realizes a heretofore-untapped potential in the Van Halen classics, reworking them in flattering arrangements with great instrumentalism. Precisely, what makes this tribute album work is that it is not a bunch of Rock covers anticlimactically approximating the original Van Halen classics. These Bluegrass musicians take themselves and Van Halen’s music seriously. Van Halen fans should take this album seriously and give it a listen.


  • Jason Sagall

    Jason was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio. He was born in Illinois and currently reside in California, USA, where he works in the field of Information Technology, and is a freelance web consultant His favorite Rock and Metal subgenres include Classic, Progressive, and Power. He is a guitar fanatic and listen to a lot of Instrumental Rock and Fusion. Jason has been playing guitar as a hobby for some 25 years.  

    View all posts

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.