Sonic Timber Records 006
Rod McCormack is an elite-level guitarist, producer, vocalist, and songwriter from Australia. He’s won numerous awards there, including the Country Music Association Of Australia’s Musician Of The Year. On Fingerprints, McCormack channels his lifelong love of artists such as Alison Krauss, Tony Rice, Tom T. Hall, Gordon Lightfoot, New Grass Revival, and more into a solid and engaging CD of contemporary bluegrass. Filled with often-brilliant flatpicking, strong harmony singing, and McCormack’s stirring voice, he proves here that he’s an emerging (at least in the U.S.) bluegrass artist to keep an eye on.
An excellent flatpicker clearly influenced by fellow Aussie Tommy Emanuel, Fingerprints launches his bluegrass guitar playing to a very high level. McCormack’s instrumental tunes, “Timeless Traveler” and “Sweetwater,” showcase his fleet, dynamic flatpicking perfectly, coupled with some great solos on fiddle and mandolin. McCormack brought in Nashville’s best for this project, including Aubrey Haynie, Andy Leftwich, Rob Ickes, and Justin Moses. Unlike so many solo artists, McCormack knows exactly how to bring out the best in the amazingly capable pro players he brought in here. It would have been nice to see who played on what track, but it’s always fun guessing who’s who.
McCormack’s written some excellent original tunes here in a modern bluegrass-style. “Another Tinsel Town” is a heart-gutting song with a beautiful melody, honest lyrics, and some great soloing to support it. And when he brings in the luminous Claire Lynch for harmony vocals on “It Was Love,” the CD springs to higher ground, a clear single to release. The other standout song is his melancholic “Ballad Of Willie Johnson,” which showcases McCormack’s engaging, clear-as-a-bell baritone voice. He wrote or co-wrote all 14 songs here, and that’s a high standard to meet for even the most gifted songwriters. Replacing a couple of the less memorable originals with some classic bluegrass tunes would have made this strong project even more appealing to U.S. bluegrass audiences.
Back home in Australia, McCormack is a prolific record producer who’s worked with many leading stars both Down Under and in the U.S. Ironically, the biggest criticism of Fingerprints is that it’s overproduced in places. At times, he employs a keening choir of overlaid fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar, and background singing that swoops in and out when a simpler, more elegant sound might have better suited the song. Same with the carefully planned-out instrumental harmony parts and endings. But few listeners would even notice this.
Fingerprints marks a very strong bluegrass debut from one of the most respected musicians in Australia, putting McCormack clearly in multiple awards conversations for IBMA this year. (www.rodmccormack.com)DJM