I have long been a fan of the Boston-based band Mile Twelve, and co-founder Bronwyn Keith-Hynes’ fiddling has been a major factor in the group’s appeal. It’s exciting to see her make her mark with her own album, especially one that is as good as this.
I love this record, both for her extraordinary playing and for the incredible array of talents that she has brought together for the sessions. Guest artists include Sierra Hull, Chris Eldridge (from The Punch Brothers), Sarah Jarosz, and Tim O’Brien, who contributes mandolin and vocals on three of the selections. The studio musicians are outstanding in their own right, particularly Wes Corbett, who plays banjo in the Sam Bush Band and who also produced this album. His seamless blend of Scruggs and melodic styles is masterful; I like to think that Bill Keith is smiling down approvingly at Corbett’s imaginative runs.
There are those who say that, of all instruments, the violin comes closest to capturing the expressiveness of the human voice. Bronwyn’s playing gives credence to that. Her fiddle doesn’t just play; it swoops, sighs, whoops, and occasionally laughs. The opening cut, “Hendersonville Hop,” is a good example; there are even one or two yelps. “Michelle’s Waltz,” an original tune dedicated to Bronwyn’s late cousin, besides being beautifully moving, is also a technical marvel; the striking harmonies are such that I had to double-check to make sure that there weren’t actually two fiddles playing together. Nope; it’s all her.
Bronwyn is a generous player, one who does not dominate a piece at the expense of other musicians. Check out the breaks on “Open Water,” possibly my favorite cut; her fiddle is particularly joyful, but the contributions of Corbett on banjo, Jake Stargel on guitar, and the awesome picking by Sierra Hull shine in their own right.
A word about the vocals: as might be expected, Tim O’Brien’s work is outstanding, especially on “Minstrel Boy,” a Thomas Moore poem that he set to music and offered for this album; he also sings harmony on two other pieces, “Hello Trouble” and “I Don’t Know Why,” each with James Kee on lead vocal and mandolin. Chris Eldridge takes lead vocal and beautifully finger-picks John Hartford’s “Natchez Whistle.” Sarah Jarosz brings a classic country sound to Peter Rowan’s “Last Train” (in addition to playing a mean mandolin). The closing number, Tim O’Brien and James Kee’s rousing, up-tempo version of Red Allen’s “I Don’t Know Why,” is a fitting ending to an album that is guaranteed to raise your spirits in these dark times.
Bottom line: Bronwyn’s playing makes my heart sing. I hope it does the same for you.
Sugar Petunia Records