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Andy Statman

Monroe Bus – 2019 (Shefa)

Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.

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CDs by Andy Statman

On mandolinist Andy Statman's genre-bending, mind-expanding and toe-tapping "Monroe Bus," he embraces the wellsprings of traditional bluegrass - the album title, of course, nods to the man whose mandolin playing and bands brought bluegrass out of the hills to wider audiences - while at the same time innovating within and beyond traditional bluegrass music. He's joined by Jim Whitney on double bass, Larry Eagle on drums and percussion, Michael Cleveland on fiddle and Glenn Patscha on organ and piano.

Cleveland's jaunty fiddle kicks off the opener and title track, floating over Statman's steady mandolin strums. Statman's playful mandolin takes off after several bars, steering the song down the road with a joyful energy. The entire tune carries us blissfully down a musical path with a carefree spirit.

The gospel-inflected "Reminiscence" floats along the strains of Patscha's organ, with phrases from "Amazing Grace" and other hymns snaking in and out. The mandolin and organ evoke a time long past and a longing for a slower pace and simpler times. Snare shots kick off the tempestuous, Weather Report-like, "Ice Cream on the Moon." Cleveland's skittering fiddle scampers under and around Statman's mandolin; the raucous, cacophonous bridge launches the songs into a different world before a choir re-directs the song to a traditional bluegrass scamper.

"Ain't No Place for a Girl Like You" blends progressive jazz with a recurrent phrase from The Doors' "Hello, I Love You" before Cleveland heads off into a phantasmagoric fiddle flight and Patshca adds haunting organ notes to close out the tune. "Brooklyn Hop" is a minor-chord meditation that wouldn't be out of place being played in an early 20th century speakeasy, while "Lakewood Waltz" evokes a moody, and often sorrowful, atmosphere with its languorous pace. "Raw Ride" rushes headlong, careening around curving musical roads with a devil-may-care abandon, while "Burger and Fries" delivers a deliciously delightful serving of bluegrass soul pop, thanks to Patscha's organ.

Bill Monroe meets John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra on "Monroe's Bus," and riding along with Statman in the driver's seat guarantees a musical adventure we don't soon forget.