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Mr. Sun

The People Need Light – 2015 (Compass)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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CDs by Mr. Sun

To say that Mr. Sun is a four-piece string band is both praise and diminishment. The band owes as much to David Grisman and Stephane Grappelli as it does to Bill Monroe. Mr. Sun could sit in with each and tear up the room.

In fact, most of Mr. Sun has sat in with Grisman at one time or another. Grant Gordy, Jr., Mr. Sun's guitar player played in Grisman's Quintet/Sextet for about six years through 2014. Darol Anger, Mr. Sun's animated fiddle player (or is it violin when it's jazz?) started in 1975 with Grisman when the Quintet featured guitarist Tony Rice. That should provide enough music cred for any band, but Mr. Sun's mandolin player Joe Walsh played for years with The Gibson Brothers, and, like Anger, has teaching duties at Boston's Berklee School of Music. Mr. Sun is anchored by bassist Ethan Jodziewicz, a relative youngster who has studied with Edgar Meyer. He's that good.

So, what does Mr. Sun do with all this talent? For one thing, they put together a bright, clever record that starts with a swinging country tune ("The Likes of You'), rides into a bluegrass idyll ("The Fiddler's Boot") before peeling away layers of the musical onion with ever more free-form, but tightly-wound tunes. One need go no further than the title cut, which careers with frenetic synchronicity. Anger reprises one of his old, much revered tunes, "Key Signator," which he played in the Grisman days with Tony Rice; Mr. Sun brings it brightly into the 21st century, with Gordy imprinting the song with his easy, but complex playing.

Mr. Sun's genre-bending turn offers up a variation on "If I Were A Bell," a Frank Loesser tune from Broadway's "Guys and Dolls." Mr. Sun bravely and admirably provide a stirring string bookend to Miles Davis' legendary 1956 recording of the song.

Mr. Sun features virtuoso players tightly weaving their sonic texture in "The People Need Light." The breadth of music is remarkable; it's a real statement that string music needn't have barriers and that the time-worn argument over "what is bluegrass?" is largely irrelevant. The CD exudes stout, but clever playing, without regard to traditional labels. It's just good music.