CD Review: Byron Berline – Early in the Morning – Swing

It’s a head scratcher, really. I’m trying to figure out Byron Berline. His music shop burned down in early 2019, then a major pandemic shelved most communal music making for 2020. Nobody would blame him for kicking back and taking it easy in retirement. Instead he uses the opportunity to release a three CD set of music, showcasing his astounding skill and fiddling versatility. The set is entitled Early in the Morning and it includes one CD each dedicated to Byron’s love of Bluegrass, Old Time, and Swing fiddling. Check out the HVBA for reviews of the Bluegrass and Old Time CDs. Here’s a quick look at the “Swing” CD.

This CD is a Dagwood Bumstead sandwich. The first and last tunes (top and bottom bread slices) “Fiddle My Piano” and “Thunder Up” are about as quick as they come. (The CD’s title might be “Swing” but there is no mistaking Byron Berline’s musical heritage as bluegrass royalty.) In between those tunes is a selection of (mostly) Berline originals with nods to country stomps, backbeat rags, waltzes and some ethnic flavor (Italian, Russian, Manouche). Don’t expect music with the jazz swing era style as you might hear in the playing of Stuff Smith, Stephane Grappelli or Svend Asmussen. Instead here we have a faster swing approach with unexpected chord progressions and melodic twists that clearly harken back to Byron’s early Oklahoma and Southwest old time fiddling origins. Some of my other favorite tracks include the country waltz “Satisfied” the sassy “Sassafrass” and the raggy “Batter Up.” There are 19 tunes on the “Swing CD, all instrumentals.

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“Satisfied”

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“Sassafrass”

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“Batter Up”

Terrific musical accompanists all get a chance to contribute solos on piano, mandolin, banjo, guitar, pedal steel and even harpsichord! Hey Byron, sure glad you didn’t retire. ‘Nuff said!

3 Responses

  • Very nice article and good sound bites.

    In my book, Byron was first a Texas contest style fiddler. His earliest appearances with Bill Monroe as a Blue Grass Boy were, um, “shaky”. I don’t think he knew the songs or the recorded breaks. Of course he blazed on the instrumentals, but he had to grow into bluegrass fiddling in support of vocals. He became bluegrass royalty, yes. But I feel he had to work and study hard on it, while under the gun, working as a Blue Grass Boy.

    • Yes, I agree. I always first think of Byron in the context of that early record with the Dillards – every cut a Texas contest standard, played brilliantly.

  • I loved Byron’s fiddle intros and breaks on Gram Parson’s “Grievous Angel” and Steve Still’s “Manasass” even before I knew who he was. A true legend.

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