Review: Mike Barnett – Portraits in Fiddles

Mike Barnett grew up in Connecticut, and he was spotted as a gifted young fiddler from at least his high school days. That’s certainly when I first saw him. He wasn’t messing around then, and it was no surprise that he would eventually be part of the next wave of super-pickers.

It didn’t take him long either. He joined up with the Deadly Gentlemen, a robust, energetic group that embraced high-energy bluegrass, David Grisman-inspired acoustic jazz and jam grass. Mike moved to New York City, which hosts a contemporary bluegrass and acoustic music scene that beckons to all sort of young and aspiring musicians. His roommate there, Alex Hargreaves, is also an exceptional fiddler. Alex joins Mike on a few of the cuts on this very fine recording.

Mike has now found his way to Nashville, and this recording demonstrates just how far he’s come to establishing himself with both the young lions and some of his personal heroes. As the title suggests, fiddling is front and center here, with Mike soloing or harmonizing with the likes of Stuart Duncan, Alex Hargreaves, Bobby Hicks and Buddy Spicher. Interspersed on this recording are spoken reminisces by David Grisman, Tony Trischka, Bryan Sutton, Jesse McReynolds, Bobby Hicks and Buddy Spicher that provide personal glimpses into the origins of some of the tunes– and the musical ideas that are embedded in these tune arrangements. These folks are also featured musicians on the CD. If you like twin fiddling with all the appropriately added bluegrass instrumentation in the package, there is a lot to keep you entertained here.

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“Mom & Dad’s Waltz”

Guest vocalists are Tim O’Brien, Tim Mensy and Michael Daves, each contributing strong vocal tracks to contrast with the powerful instrumentals that make up the bulk of this CD. I must confess that there is so much double-fiddling going on here, one is a bit hard-pressed to pick out just where Mike is in the thick of things sometimes. But with all the great fiddling going on, it’s perhaps a moot point. In any case, I hear a lot of the influence of Vassar Clements in the playing of young Mr. Barnett.

Portraits In Fiddles is an engaging and enjoyable listen from start to finish and will solidify Mike’s reputation as one of the brightest young musicians on the acoustic music scene today.


Compass Records

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