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Matt Combs

The Devil's Box – 1998 (Small Dog A-Barkin')

Reviewed by Lawrence Kay

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CDs by Matt Combs

It's difficult to make the case for the all-instrumental bluegrass fiddle album - of course, if you're a virtuoso player, you're going to want to make one, but what will distinguish it from the hundreds that have been made before?

By definition, traditionally-oriented albums are going to sound a lot alike, and more often than not, "experimental" approaches create disastrous results. Song selection could mark out an artist's individual temperament, but let's face it: unless you're already a stringband connoisseur, the nuances between one bow-snapping, toe-tapping breakdown and the next might not be that apparent. But then there's always context. For example, if you know roots music luminaries like John Hartford and not only get them to play on your album, but to put it out on their own label, that says a lot. That's the deal with Matt Combs, whose new record has a light, sprightly touch that brings to mind Hartford's own instrumental playfulness. Highlights include the loping "Royal Box Waltz," written by Hartford, and the delicious, lyrically mournful "Midnight On The Water." (Box 443, Madison, TN 37116)