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Michael Cleveland can flat out play the fiddle. He's won the prestigious IBMA (International Bluegrass Musician's Association) fiddle player of the year award three times. In the past he's been a sideman with Rhonda Vincent's The Rage and Dale Ann Bradley's band as well as playing on many projects as a featured soloist. Let 'Er Go Boys demonstrates that Cleveland can also hold his own as a bandleader.
A couple of years back I had the pleasure of seeing Cleveland and guitarist/lead singer Audie Blaylock with Rhonda Vincent's band. I couldn't help but notice the musical chemistry between them. I guess they noticed too, as Blaylock handles most of the lead vocals on Let 'Er Go Boys. He's not the only lead singer here, as you'll also hear lead vocals by Larry Sparks, Del McCoury, Dale Ann Bradley, Vince Gill, Dan Tyminski, and Jeff White. Cleveland's band, dubbed "Flamekeeper," includes Charlie Cushman on banjo, Jason Moore on bass, and Jesse Brock on mandolin. Other players on Let ‘Er Go Boys include Jeff Gurnsey on lead guitar, Rob Ickes on dobro, and Jens Kruger on banjo.
The material on Let ‘Er Go Boys doesn't stray too far from hard-core bluegrass. Three Bill Monroe tunes join a pair of public domain instrumentals, a Jimmy Martin song, and one song each by Pete Gobel, Wayne Davis, Ray Park, Johnny Elgin and one Michael Cleveland original. This CD sits firmly in the "picker's album" category, with every tune an excuse for hot solos and supercharged tempi. After every song you can almost hear Cleveland saying, "Let's see if you can top this…" On "The Old Brown Country Barn" Cleveland not only plays the fiddle solos but also takes a turn on mandolin. His lead guitar solos on "Sugar In the Gourd" demonstrate he's a bona fide triple threat.
The Sound on Let ‘Er Go Boys is good enough to disappear. Just like a perfect sideman the sonics call little attention to themselves, but instead stay out of the way so the music can come through. Mastering engineer Toby Mountain has a well-deserved reputation for making digital recordings that sound exceptionally natural and analog-like. Let ‘Er Go Boys is just another example of his fine work.
Let ‘Er Go Boys will delight some bluegrass fans while pushing others into a funk so deep they'll consider selling their instruments. Michael Cleveland plays so damned well that he has that effect on people. He demonstrates what is possible if players devote themselves totally to music. That's not a bad thing, is it?