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Tony Williamson

Sessions at McBane Mill – 2003 (Bonfire)

Reviewed by Brad San Martin

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CDs by Tony Williamson

If you only know the work of Tony Williamson through his wonderful 1999 Doobie Shea album of traditional gospel duets, this disk might come as a bit of a surprise - and quite a pleasant one. While the ragged, Monroe-ish edge of Williamson's playing remains, here he tackles an eclectic program that mixes fiddle tunes, jazz standards, a calypso or two, and original compositions. Unlike many such exercises, which are overwhelmed by technical noodling, Williamson's funky, old-school mandolin playing and the good taste of an able supporting cast keep things soulful and close to the ground.

With a rich acoustic sound (the album was recorded in a 19th century wooden grain mill), the band tackles quirkier fiddle tunes ("Crazy Creek"), blues from Charlie Parker and John Coltrane ("Now's the Time" and "Mr. PC"), and a series of elegant originals from Williamson and the band members. Guitarist Jeff Autry, best known from the John Cowan Band, is a great foil for Williamson, alternately fleet and searching. Bassist Robbie Link (nice to hear a bluegrass bassist use the bow so cleanly and tastefully!) and multi-instrumentalist Rex McGhee (banjo, fiddle) round out the ensemble for a program which beautifully balances traditional immediacy with the wide-open vistas of newgrass. This is one to treasure.