Review: Byron Berline – Jammin’ with Byron

Byron Berline has released a great new CD of fiddle standards and original instrumentals. The title of the CD is Jammin’ With Byron. According to my Bryon detection meter, that’s two releases in two years after a bit of an absence from the recording studio. I like this cadence!

This CD harkens back to Byron’s earliest music influences and recordings (though with some contemporary arrangements). It has the relaxed feel of a jam session but clearly we are treated to some of the very best texas-style fiddling and bluegrass instrumental playing.

Byron’s roots aren’t bluegrass – instead think Texas and Oklahoma style fiddling. You can also hear the German polka influence that infuses Norteno and Tex-Mex styles. That plus country-rock, swing, bluegrass and old-time fiddle. Somehow it all hangs together as Byron displays his effortless smooth playing throughout.

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“Coralie’s Waltz”

Because the CD is comprised of many classic standards, Byron can really let his hair down and demonstrate how his stylings make these tunes sound fresh. Whether it’s the addition of an extra fiddle part by Greg Burgess, Tim McDonald’s piano or even drums (Steve Short) the result is musical, tasteful and most of all, fun. Tunes like “Denver Belle,” “Leather Britches,” “Red Apple Rag” and the Texas standard “Twinkle Little Star” are infectious. I also liked Byron’s version of Arthur Smith’s “Peacock Rag” (a tune I play all the time) with swinging twin fiddles and great solos, including banjo and mandolin.

The first tune I ever heard Byron play was a breakdown called “Hamilton County” on the old LP “Pickin and Fiddlin” with the Dillards. (In the liner notes here he mentions that it’s also the first tune that he ever played with the Dillards.) For some reason, it is rarely played these days but it’s an absolute killer and Byron reprises it here in an updated version. Byron also plays another tune from that first Dillards LP, “Cotton Patch Rag.” Sigh, wish I could’ve been there.

Other bluegrass standards here are “Charmaine,” “Walking In My Sleep,” and a six minute version of the knuckle-busting “Wild Fiddler’s Rag” by Howdy Forester.

One of the biggest surprises on the CD is an original, “Byron in the Highland.” It’s an old-time hair raiser with just two fiddles. Here’s a haunting archaic sound reminiscent of Appalachian standards like “Yew Piney Mountain” or “Yell in the Shoats.” Byron’s re-harmonized version of “Cattle in the Cane” is a perfect vehicle for blurring the line between bluegrass and old time fiddling.

Another surprise is the instrumental version of “Amazing Grace” with Byron taking the lead on a 1924 Gibson K4 Mandocello (for you gear-heads) before taking over on fiddle.

Byron’s originals are just as good as the classic tunes – go buy the CD and hear for yourself!

The rest of the band is great – it really is a jammin’ sort of recording and everybody gets to contribute. Alan Munde and John Hickman handle most of the banjo chores with Jens Kruger and Bill Emerson each playing on a cut. Mitch Corbin, Jim Fish and Burgess share guitar duties. David Grier plays guitar on one cut and Jonathan Hunt doubles on guitar and banjo. Other band members include Andrew Hunt (mandolin), Al Perkins (steel), Richard Sharp (bass) and Barry Patton (bones).

Double Stop Music

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