Mike Compton: Rotten Taters

“From One to Twelve”
“Forever Has Come To an End”
“Wood Butcher’s Walkabout”
“Hallie’s Hornpipe”
“Dust and Ashes, He Rose from the Dead”
“Post Oak Grove”
“I’ll Tell You about the Women”
“Rotten Taters”
“Yankee Gal”
“Midnight Hour Blues”
“Torment of Billie”
“Jimmy Fell Off the Wagon”
“How You Want Your Rollin’ Done”
“Dear Honey”
“Jenny Lynn”

I was fortunate to have been able to share adjoining campsites with Mike Compton at both Winterhawk Bluegrass Festival and the Peaceful Valley Bluegrass Festival, back to back, in New York State when he first left The Nashville Bluegrass Band in 1989. I got to know him a little in those two weeks, which was a real pleasure. Mike was just a regular guy, living near Big Indian, NY who just happened to be a famous mandolin picker and who I also found to be a genuine person.

“I’ll Tell You About The Women”

Much more has been heard than said recently in the media about the mandolin picking of Mike Compton. He is one of the very rare pickers who seems to focus on soul and reality instead of just flash and bang. He does not look for attention; attention comes looking for him instead. It seems that almost nothing is ever written about his singing, which is a real shame. He sings with a tasteful soulfulness which is also quite a treat.

I asked Mike about the different sound of the mandolin on a few cuts. “It sounded like you were playing the A-model mandolin with an oval sound hole on a few cuts like “I’ll Tell You About Women,” “Midnight Hour Blues,” and “Dust and Ashes, He Rose From the Dead;” am I correct Mike?”

“Howdy Steve, I played a Duff F5 and a Duff H5 strung the old time way with octave strings on the C and G. That’s the different sound you hear.”

“There are lots of reasons for making albums, and Mike Compton’s “Rotten Taters” is one that was made for the best reason of all: because some people simply wanted to hear it. Fans in Australia pooled the funds and got Compton into a studio to do precisely what he does best, which is to play the mandolin ……… If we’re being entirely honest, Compton can seem like a bit of an anomaly these days, especially with all the attention that Chris Thile is bringing to the mandolin. Thile is an innovator, an experimenter, looking for new territory to conquer, and that is something audiences seem to prize not only of mandolin players, of course, but musicians generally.” (Glen Herbert)

Mike is much more about style than flash. He is a musician’s musician, a mandolin picker’s mandolin picker. His soulfulness is absolutely wonderful here and almost has a roaring 1920’s sound at times, then brushing onto 1930’s-1940’s styles blues playing and, of course, Bill Monroe’s style of blue grass mandolin playing, but it is all his own style, a timeless style of sorts. Somehow, Mike can just play without affixing a label on what he does or why he does it. He’s one of those guys that can make older styles sound brand new again and make something new sound ancient as well. He has a magical ability of reminding the listener of a different place and time but, after hearing him, you are not really sure where or when that place actually is. Timeless recordings are very much like this. All one needs to know is that this is really great stuff that satisfies the music hunger of  the here and now. It almost seems like his soul is speaking to your soul with his music. I have said the same about Bill Monroe. “Complex simplicity” for lack of a better term is what I used to call it. It is much like a good writer that has an ability of saying so much with so very few words.

All cuts are great, but I especially liked “I’ll Tell You About Women,” “Midnight Hour Blues,” “Wood Butcher’s Walkabout,” “Yankee Gal,” “Forever Has Come to an End,” and “Dust and Ashes, He Rose From the Dead.” This CD is highly recommended. Thank you, Mike Compton, for recording this one.


Steve Brandt

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