The fact that Tim May's debut solo album is being released by FGM - an offshoot of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine - implies a degree of instrumental excellence that this handily lives up to. May, who led Crucial Smith for 15 years, is a fine flatpicker - resonant and supple, equally adept and quick breaks and sympathetic, driving rhythm work. His gifts as an accompanist have been known for some years now, as he has toured with country star Patty Loveless and can be heard on Charlie Daniels's new bluegrass gospel album. Stepping into the spotlight, he seemingly effortlessly overcomes the usual sideman-gone-solo missteps.
First off, probably among the least-known of his talents and always a big leap for instrumentalists, May is an adept vocalist. His tenor is high and clear and engaging in a warm, casual way. Five of the 11 tunes here are vocal songs, and he acquits himself quite well. The highlight is definitely "I've Got a Feeling," a captivating original piece of contemporary pop-leaning bluegrass delivered smoothly yet soulfully. The traditional "Sittin' on Top of the World" shows he can handle the straight-ahead stuff equally well. More impressive, though, is the general vibe: the collection of songs and instrumentals is well-paced, well-recorded and delivered with a maturity rarely heard on first albums. Still, many have choked upon stepping into the ring solo, and he makes it seem easy. He even pulls off a one-man-band version of "Bill Cheatham" without sounding mechanical or dry.
This album makes it clear that you'll be hearing from Tim May in a number of capacities in the coming years: sideman and solo artist, bandleader and collaborator.