Darol Anger’s unmistakable fiddle tone has graced a huge variety of recording projects from Dawg music to bluegrass to jazz and a few stops in-between. A founding member of the David Grisman Quintet, Anger’s distinctive sound, produced on his five-string violin, has dueled melodically with virtually every contemporary bluegrass master.
His latest project, Mr. Sun, blends influences from fiddle tunes to smoky jazz, propelled by the stellar talents of guitarist and fellow DGQ alum Grant Gordy, Joe K. Walsh’s equally distinctive mandolin and vocals, all borne swimmingly down the string band highway on the shoulders of bassist Aidan O’Donnell. Their latest release, Extrovert, could be described as Psychograss with Americana artist Pokey Lafarge singing lead, a complement on both ends.
Instrumentally, you’ll seldom find a more talented band of musical brothers. Just listen to their rendition of Paul McCartney’s immortal “Blackbird,” kicked off with a brilliant breezy interpretation of the classic melody by Gordy’s elegant, arpeggiated lines framing the song structure. He leaves a firm base for Anger’s introduction of the melody, which is then picked up by Walsh’s mandolin. Mr. Sun is nothing if not daring musically. Here, they produce another example of the endless creative reinterpretations of the classic Lennon/McCartney tune catalog as the ensemble segues into a modern vamp on McCartney’s timeless melody and chord progression before morphing with grace back to the original melody.
On the vocal side, it seems you either love Walsh’s voice or you don’t. His reimagination of the W.B. Yeats poem “The Fiddler of Dooney” is a perfect vehicle for his singing style. There’s typically lovely work on mandolin, here sparse and spare, draped like misty clouds over the vista at the cliffs of Moher. Grant’s playing is simply gorgeous here, delicately melodic while still pulsing the groove along. Walsh’s mandolin percolates just under the surface before emerging like a spring hare to play fox and hound with Anger’s fiddle.
On “Just A Little Lovin’,” Walsh’s martini-dry vocals will definitely leave the listener stirred, not shaken. His take on “Tamp ‘em Up Solid” from Ry Cooder gets a retro revival, another excellent tune for Walsh’s bluesy voice.
“Murmurations” feels a lot like Anger’s acoustic jazz ensemble Montreux without piano and steel drums. It’s uptempo and free-flowing, enlivened with sudden twists and turns, much like a flock of starlings at twilight. Clearly, Mr. Sun is the sum of its parts, and Walsh and Gordy play perfect foils, ranging from the traditional to the edge of bebop.
“A Real Dragon” is an uptempo number populated with Anger’s trademark syncopated fiddle chop driving the band rhythmically. The tune sounds like a lost DGQ track, which feels apropos because Gordy once filled the legendary guitar chair in Grisman’s ensemble and Walsh has always credited Dawg as a major influence. It’s real highlight, and perfect end to the CD.
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