Alan Tompkins – No Part of Nothin’

It’s hard to believe that No Part Of Nothin’ is the first CD by Alan Tompkins. His assured baritone anchors this mellow album of bluegrass classics and originals and gives it the feel of a recording by a much more seasoned artist. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he is joined here by a handful of experienced and recognizable musicians such as Sam Bush, Kenny and Amanda Smith, Ron Stewart, Mike Bub, and Brad Davis to highlight just a few. The net effect is a smooth and professional-sounding offering that bluegrass fans will find easy on the ear.

The majority of the 12 tracks on the album are traditional songs, drawing deeply from the well of old songs that defines bluegrass music. No doubt Alan’s role as founder and president of the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation – an organization dedicated to the preservation of bluegrass music in America – had something to do with that. There’s still room though, for some original song choices such as Mark Knopfler’s ‘When It Comes To You’ as well as his own compositions like ‘Blue Kentucky Waltz’ and the instrumental title track ‘No Part Of Nothin’ Blues’.

“I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome”

Despite Alan’s obvious arrangement and production skills, many of the highlights of these songs come to us through the guest appearances of some of modern bluegrass music’s most influential practitioners. Almost every track is enhanced by such a cameo, but the mandolin of Sam Bush on ‘More Pretty Girls Than One’, the vocals of Amanda Smith on ‘I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome’ and the fabulous fiddle, banjo and guitar chops of the multi-talented Ron Stewart on several tracks really help bring the music to life.

For me, the stand-out instrumental performances here come from the resophonic guitar sounds of Randy Kohrs. He is rapidly gaining the wider attention outside the music business that his prodigious talents merit and his dobro lights up the 7 cuts on which he features. Mike Bub too, as a veteran upright bass player should not be overlooked. That Alan, as a bass player himself, defers to Mike for 3 songs speaks volumes for his talent and experience and students of this instrument would do well to rewind these songs for a closer listen.

For a record that incorporates so much talent, it is commendable that the picking on each track doesn’t take away from the song as a whole. There’s no showing off here, just slick, tasteful contributions that enhance the overall production value and Alan Tompkins along with fellow producer Gerald Jones should take the credit for achieving such balance.

That being said, bluegrass lovers expecting instrumental fireworks may be left feeling a little flat after some of these songs. There are no extended breaks or real ‘foot- stompers’ and the tempo of the bulk of these cuts could best be described as ‘moderate.’ It would be a delight to hear these same musicians pick up the pace a little and offer the listener something a little less restrained.

All in all though, Alan Tompkins’ No Part of Nothin’ makes for very pleasant listening. Alan offers up a thoughtfully compiled record of original choices and bluegrass chestnuts that benefit greatly from the contributions of the impressive musical cast he has assembled.

Bluegrass Heritage Music

Iain Birchwood

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