Bluegrass Unlimited, May 2000
As we all know, Bill Monroe took up the mandolin because it was
the instrument no one else in his family wanted to play, and for
years, the instrument languished behind the more glamorous fiddle
and banjo among those who played bluegrass. But in recent years, the
mandolin has experienced an explosion of interest, drawing superb
musicians like Chris Thile, David Harvey, the late Dave Peters and
many more. The mandolin's appeal has spread far beyond bluegrass
into blues, rock, jazz, Celtic and classical fields, and popular
interest in the diminutive instrument is greater today than at any
time since the heyday of the mandolin orchestras which swept America
in a wave of popularity just after the turn of the last century.
The three musicians on Travellers all have contributed
significantly to the widespread acceptance of mandolin, and their
musical union here has created a truly exceptional record.
Ranging across such diverse musicscapes as bluegrass, Latin,
Irish and Gypsy swing, the tunes included here capture the very best
the mandolin and its related instruments have to offer.
As always Butch Baldassari plays with a keen sense of taste and
refinement, honing his technique to deliver knockout solos or
sensitive backup or harmony lines. Just listen to his dead-on Monroe
chops on Big Mon's timeless "Dead March" or his twin
mandolin work with John Reischman on Frank Wakefield's "Waltz
in the Bluegrass" for a lesson in technique, taste and timing.
Reischman reigns as the king of pure mandolin tone, coaxing the
most musical energy from his fabled Loar F-5 mandolin and a new
mandola from Idaho luthier Lawrence Smart. Here, he recreates "Birdland
Breakdown," the classic tune he originated with the Tony Rice
Unit in the 1980s as a bouncier, swingier tune, "Birdland
Bounce." Few other mandolinists have demonstrated such a
diverse interest, capturing musical inspirations from sources on
both the north and south sides of the border.
Robin Bullock, who won the mandolin championships at Winfield and
has a commanding interest in Celtic musical styles, contributes
brilliant mandolin, cittern and guitar to the project. His work on
the old-time Kentucky fiddle tune "Little Jacky Wilson"
and his flatpicking guitar solo on "Chief Sitting Bull"
are great examples of his broad talents.
Individually, there're plenty of brilliant solos and inventive
interpretations on this outstanding record. But most of all, "Travellers"
is a CD where each musician works hard to support the melody and the
other musicians. This is mandolin-based ensemble playing at its
best, filled with grace and charm and warmth and insight. I can't
think of an instrumental CD I've enjoyed more recently.
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