My first exposure to Byron Berline was The Dillards with Byron Berline. That vinyl record, all fiddle tunes with the Dillards as the backup band, was played countless times in my house. The Dillards are from Salem, Missouri. Byron is from Guthrie, Oklahoma. Being from Missouri myself, my family used to go up to the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas, for one of our annual festival pilgrimages. Byron was always there, and I never missed anything he was doing. Why? Because when it comes to combining raw power with fiddling finesse, Byron is in a class all by himself.
For me, and I suspect for many of us, when I watch a live musical performance the visual element can often be as compelling as the notes that are played. Or, at least the beautiful symmetry between the physical presence of the artist with the music they are creating can keep me on the edge of my seat. There is just nothing like watching Norman Blake play the guitar—or Byron Berline play the fiddle. Their instruments are natural extensions of themselves. You want to be like them.
And here we are today; I find this two CD collection of tunes (44!), all written by Byron, sitting in my mail box. Profuse salivation. Flyin’ Fingers is a testament to Byron Berline’s seemingly boundless joy that he has with making music. As far as I can tell, his technical skills and adventurous playing are as much there as they ever were. Rags, waltzes, hornpipes, reels and breakdowns, Cajun, swing and, oh gosh, major keys, flat keys, minors— Byron is a master of them all. A champion fiddler and the son of a champion fiddler, Byron always knows where he comes from. He is not trying to recreate the musical wheel; he is expanding his rich repertoire of traditional tunes with his own melodies for the next generations of fiddlers to enjoy. That’s the way things should work. It is a high calling.
“Easy Does It Waltz”
For Flyin’ Fingers, Byron has assembled a fine group of musicians for backup on the tunes. Notably, his current band mates in the Byron Berline Band figure prominently, as well as Bette Berline on piano; many friends guest in spots, and I can’t help but notice Jerry Douglas and Alan Munde among them. Everyone seems to know it’s a big, fun time and each track moves into the next without one really noticing any big change in who is playing what, where. That is to say, the exuberance persists. I should mention that Byron also plays some excellent mandolin on this recording as well.
I’ll finish this review with a brief historical overview for the uninitiated. Byron Berline was a member of Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys and recorded the definitive version of “Goldrush” and one of the most copied versions of “Sally Goodin’” ever imagined. He lived in Los Angeles for years and did studio session work with countless stars including the Rolling Stones and Linda Ronstadt. He’s a legendary player by any standard, and he keeps making music because I think with Byron—it’s like breathing itself. Now, y’all get this recording and start learning some of these tunes. I’ve got a head start on you.
Mark R. Sukoenig, OD: OK, I’ll get it. You don’t give me a lot of choices here. Now it’s time for you to go back and add an ordering link at the end of your review.