Coffee & Cake
Mark Stoffel isn’t a name heard much in mandolin circles. That’s about to change.
With the release of his solo CD, Coffee & Cake, Stoffel, who holds the mandolin chair in Chris Jones and the Night Drivers, has created a strong personal mandolin brand that charms and beguiles rather than overwhelms. Stoffel focuses deliberately on what he does best: writing memorable and engaging original tunes, and rendering them with a full dose of emotion, style and intelligence to make them shine.
A deep listen to his work here reveals a right hand with the buoyancy, speed and control of David Grisman in his prime, like his startling break on Night Driver’s Rag. But he’s certainly no Dawg clone. Stoffel’s playing reflects other major influences like John Reischman in his tone production and compositional style. And then there’s the dazzling Monroe quote he inserts into his solo on Make A Little Boat, or the cool mandolin harmonics that open Ying and Yang.
For Coffee & Cake, Stoffel surrounds himself with some of bluegrass’ best, including fiddlers Becky Buller and Jeremy Garrett, Ned Luberecki and Gina Furtado on banjo, Rob Ickes on dobro, and an international cast of mandolin greats on the online group recording of Glen Miller’s swing standard “In The Mood.”
Eleven of the tunes here are originals, helping create a real sense of style and purpose to the project. Stoffel clearly lives and breathes these songs. In addition to his engaging melodies, he teamed up with a great engineering and mastering team including Ben Surratt and Steve Rashid to create a beautiful live-inside-the-studio sounding record. The recording is so good, you can hear the faintest squeak of Mark’s fingers sliding on the strings during his elegant, moving “March of the Lemmings.”
What Stoffel understands instinctively is that the primary role of the instrumentalist is to connect with the audience, not try to impress with hypersonic licks and technique. This project shows a road-seasoned bluegrass mandolinist in peak form, creating an instrumental mandolin CD that lets the melodies sing freely. You might be more of a tea and pastries kind of listener, but however you have breakfast, Coffee & Cake is a great start to any day.
REVIEWED BY David McCarty