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Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper
Leavin' Town
Review By Steven Stone
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  The blind virtuoso fiddler is an old cliché in traditional southern American music folklore. Michael Cleveland is the very essence of this archetype. But after listening to his particular brand of bluegrass, it's impossible for anyone who loves this music not to be a fan.

Leavin' Town is Cleveland's third release on Rounder. His second CD, " garnered the sort of praise that you'd expect for a five-time IBMA "Fiddler of the Year." Tim O'Brien, who's no slouch on fiddle himself, said, "Mike Cleveland's fiddle burns hot as a branding iron." On Leavin' Town you'll hear lots of Cleveland's searing fiddle work. His double-stopped solo on "Blue Eyed Darling" is a virtuosic tour-de-force.  On his previous album bluegrass luminaries such as Larry Sparks and Vince Gill made cameo appearances, but Leavin' Town features Cleveland's regular touring band. Cleveland's band members include guitarist Todd Rakestraw, who also handles lead vocals. He even contributes one powerful original song, "I'm Ridin' This Train." Cleveland's mandolin player, Jessie Brock, is from the new generation of hot young players who also write great tunes. His instrumental, "Kickin' Back," is anything but mellow, played at a blistering pace full of triplets and 32nd notes.  Most of the material on Leavin' Town consists of bluegrass classics such as Bill Monroe's "Jerusalem Ridge," and "Northern White Clouds." Two songs from Hot Rize's banjo player Pete Wernick also grace the CD.  Pete has long been underrated as a songwriter (probably because all three other members of Hot Rize also write great songs), but his two contributions to this CD should help raise his songwriting reputation.

Produced by Jeff White and Michael Cleveland, and mastered by longtime Rounder mastering engineer Toby Mountain, Leavin' Town sounds as if everyone just walked into the studio, played the music perfectly on the first take, then left. This effortless quality pervades both the playing and the sonics. The CD sounds as natural and relaxed as any I've ever heard. Leavin' Town is a top-shelf effort that delivers spirited bluegrass from one of the genre's most inspired practitioners.

 

 

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