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Mark Schatz and Friends

Steppin' In The Boiler House – 2006 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Dave Bagdade

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CDs by Mark Schatz and Friends

Mark Schatz leads something of a double life. For more than 25 years, he has been a first-call bluegrass bassist for the likes of B+la Fleck, Tony Rice and Nickel Creek with whom he also tours. He has also won two IBMA awards for his playing. However, once a decade or so, Schatz will issue a recording featuring his clawhammer banjo playing in an old time music setting.

This is the second such album and the first in 11 years. The record features a core band of Jim Hurst, Missy Raines and Casey Driessen on guitar, bass and fiddle respectively. Frequent collaborators Tim O'Brien, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan and Fleck (who also produced) make appearances. However, those who pick up this disc because of the high-powered names might be surprised (though they should not be) by the general lack of octane-fueled moments. Sure, there is plenty of hot playing, but the focus at all times is on tight ensemble work.

Neither a bluegrass blast nor an old timey romp, the 14 tracks (12 written by Schatz) range from progressive acoustic music to Celtic-sounding ballads with many stops in between. Fans of all types of acoustic string music will find much to enjoy.