Mike Compton has long reigned as one of the more ingenious mandolin stylists on today's bluegrass scene. Flying in the face of decades of what some call innovation, Compton stands resolutely by a scrappy, choppy, blues-inflected style directly derived from the playing of Bill Monroe. Yet his gifts as a musician and ensemble player allow him to reinvent the style in a number of contexts - from straight bluegrass to more progressive settings. In doing so, he illuminates a common thread in bluegrass, linking even the most advanced sounds to Monroe's core innovations.
Those expecting a straight bluegrass romp will be pleasantly surprised. Instead, this is a witty deconstruction of the Monroe-style mandolin legacy. Compton and the equally able Long preside over a range of mandolins and mandolas, throwing in the occasional guitar, while exploring pre-bluegrass styles, ranging from gospel to blues to early stringband sounds.
Compton (an underrated vocalist) and Long sing a few numbers drawn from brother duets and (especially) early black blues and gospel. No outside musicians chip in, keeping the sound pure and clear. Compton and Long walk this intriguing path as equals, trading off instruments and supporting roles selflessly. Throughout, several Monroe numbers emerge. Yet they are a treated in a way that highlights their classic, unsung sources as much as their radical inventiveness. Fascinating.