Nashville Mandolin Ensemble
Back at the turn of the century mandolin orchestras were an important part of the American musical landscape. Orville Gibson's fledgling musical instrument company specialized in making all the necessary constituents of a complete orchestra — mandolins, mandolas, mando-cellos, guitars, and mando-basses. In the twenties the dual forces of the Hawaiian craze and banjo-driven minstrel music drove mandolin orchestras from the musical forefront (and almost forced Gibson out of business as well.) Only fairly recently have groups based on the mandolin family reemerged. The Nashville Mandolin Ensemble demonstrates the capabilities of such a musical amalgamation. Their musical breadth and scope covers everything from Bach to Dickie Betts.
Organized, led, and produced by mandolin whiz Bruce Baldassari, the Nashville Mandolin ensemble includes Stephen Dudash on mandolin and five-string viola, John Hedgecoth on mandocello, Van Manakas on guitar, David Spicher on bass, and Walter Carter on mandola. Guitar collectors may recognize that last name. Yes he is the Walter Carter whose day job is resident historian for the Gibson guitar company. Notice how all the cool guys play mandolins and mandolas.
Although the CD leads off with a suitably reverent version of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" the ensemble shows they can get a bit rowdy on Lennon/McCarthy's "Eleanor Rigby," spacey on Charlie Provenza's "As Far As I Can See," and seriously out there on Roger Hudson's "Rite of Strings." My favorite cut, written by mandolin king David Grisman, "Happy Birthday Bill Monroe" features some wonderful dual leads on fiddle and mandolin as well as fine guitar and mandola solos.
The sound on Bach>>Beatles>>Bluegrass deserves special attention. Recorded live using an Apogee 24 bit A/D and Brauner stereo mic as the primary microphone, the sound has a fantastic sense of aliveness. Unlike some recordings such as the otherwise superb Mike Marshall/Chris Thile Collaboration Into The Cauldron, where the artificial ambience gets in the way of the music, here the natural ambience wraps around you like a warm sweater, making everything feel comfortably right.
Before, during and after the winter holiday season people are looking for recordings as gifts and soundtracks for their lives. Bach>>Beatles>>Bluegrass would make a wonderful addition to anyone's Christmas stocking, as it's guaranteed to increase their quota of holiday cheer.