The American Fiddler
The most memorable musical moments are those when virtuosity is transcended into the realms of wizardry and magic, and this remarkable album is full of such moments.
Leftwich has been accurately described as “one of the most recorded fiddle players of the 21st century.” Aside from a 16-year stint in Ricky Skaggs’ Kentucky Thunder, he’s graced the records of everyone from Taylor Swift and Alan Jackson to the contemporary blues master Keb Mo.
On this collection of mostly original tunes, Leftwich, with assistance from his best-in-the-business collaborators, explores a variety of fiddle and musical styles that have at one point or another insinuated themselves into the American mainstream.
Though stylistically miles apart, Leftwich puts me in mind of another American master: classical composer Aaron Copeland (best known for “Appalachian Spring”). Copeland’s music, like that of Leftwich in this ambitious song suite, captured a grand sweep of both the American musical and geographical landscapes.
Quite a few of these sophisticated and thrilling explorations—such as “Over Cincinnati,” “Pikes Peak Breakdown,” “Jackson’s Ground” and “Kimper County” were inspired by specific physical locations.
Along the way, Leftwich, in consort with the likes of Sierra Hull (mandolin), Ricky Skaggs (mandolin), Cody Kilby (guitar), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Paul Brewster (guitar), Rob Ickes (Dobro), Mark Schatz (bass and clawhammer banjo), Byron House (bass), Matt Menefree (banjo), Russ Carson (banjo), Jeff Taylor (accordion) and of course Leftwich himself on fiddle, mandolin and guitar, adroitly covers a variety of styles and evokes a variety of moods, most of them celebratory in one way or other.
On tracks like “Liberty” (a fiddle tune dating back to the founding of our nation, which in his growing up years Leftwich played in many a fiddle contest), Bill Monroe’s eponymous “Big Mon” (where Leftwich jousts with Sierra Hull on mandolin) Leftwich tips his hat to tradition while adding his own hyper-kinetic contemporary spins to the familiar songs.
“Made In France” (a composition by contemporary gypsy guitar king Bireli Lagrene that features Jeff Taylor on accordion and Fionan de Barra on guitar) is a thrilling excursion into gypsy jazz. “Dalway’s Reel” is a light-hearted, bucolic jaunt inspired by a trip Leftwich and his wife made the Canada’s Cape Breton, one of the world capitals of the Celtic fiddle.
Yet another amazing dimension of this outing is the manner in which all the dazzling musicianship is infused with such irrepressible energy and enthusiasm. It tends to jump right out of the speakers and grab listeners by their ears, hearts and imaginations.