Matt Flinner has a full plate; he plays and has an active online teaching portal in which he helps his students master mandolin techniques and styles. Flinner is not a road warrior; he picks and chooses his dates, touring in short bites.
The conceit of "Traveling Roots" is that these are songs, instrumentals, that Flinner and his bandmates wrote during their touring stints. The Flinner Trio live show often features a segment called "Music du Jour" - new compositions that one member or another has dreamed up whilst on tour. They are played fresh and cold on stage. 'Travelling Roots" displays of some of those one-offs.
Do not confuse "Traveling Roots" with a collection of trifles. It's a CD that is fresh, inventive and capable of causing a smile or a knowing nod to a clever turn of an aural phrase.
Some titles make no sense (see for example Ross Martin's "Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump") or call to mind peculiar images ("The Terry Cloth Warriors"), but that's not the point. The group takes a germ of a musical idea, expands it and brings home a complete work. "Head-Smashed" is a jamgrass-style romp in which the listener can only hope to keep up. The players have no problem, though.
Even as a three-piece, the band seems to have no limits: it covers a lot of ground. The songs range from neo-traditional ("Hide Not Hair") to inventive and bold ("Sopris'). Flinner's brilliant, crisp mandolin playing all over the fretboard is admirable. Martin is a stout picker, and Eric Thorin on bass provides a fulsome core. The songwriting credits are divided equally amongst the three.
"One Dog Night" features controlled runs by Flinner with sweet counterpoint by Martin. The favor is returned in "Fallen Star" in which Martin takes over the lead line echoed by Flinner. Both compositions are credited to Flinner. The collection ends with a rousing bit of technical legerdemain (the aforementioned "The Terry Cloth Warriors) in which Flinner, Thorin and Martin mesh their instrumental gears with ease.
Flinner's fretwork is never far from the core of any of the pieces, but this is a rich, solid collective work which satisfies.