ROBERT MABE, SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE
After two years of preparation, Robert Mabe offers up his debut recording. Mabe is a stellar banjo player from West Virginia and a member of Drymill Road. Joining him on this album are fiddler Patrick McAvinue, guitarists Clay Jones and Buddy Dunlap, bassist David Shepherd, mandolinist Jack Dunlap, and harmony vocalists Cindy Abramo and Jillian Mabe. Robert Mabe handles the lead vocals.
By far, the standout tracks are the two instrumental tunes, “Madeline’s Alright” and the traditional “Music For A Found Harmonium.” More on them in a moment. Mabe wrote the majority of the ten tracks here. The exceptions are “Black Waterside,” an Irish song that mixes in doleful and ancient-sounding vocals over somewhat more modern guitar backing from Buddy Dunlap, and also the aforementioned “Music For A Found Harmonium.” While all of Mabe’s songs—particularly the straight, propulsive bluegrass of “What You Deserve” and the fiddle tune dance of “Molly”—have their moments and are well-played, I was most drawn to “Bottle Of Tears.” The song details a romance gone wrong, presenting in languid sing-song fashion both the good and bad of it, the memories and regrets, the warnings and predictions. As with all good songs of this sort, he and the backing players clothe it in a lilting dreamscape that makes it both listenable and believable. That one stands well beside the two standout instrumentals cited above. “Madeline’s Alright” is an etude solo banjo piece with nineteenth-century parlor overtones. In its metronomic regularity, it recalls a music box and, as such, is hypnotic.
By contrast, the Irish tune “Music For A Found Harmonium,” which includes “Musical Priest”/“Merry Blacksmith” is all fire and swagger. The interplay is quite impressive, as are the use of triplets and trills and tutti passages. Those two and the cited vocals make this an interesting recording. (Robert Mabe, P.O. Box 434, Gerrardstown, WV 25420, www.robertsbanjo.com.)BW