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Ilya Tolshinskiy

Red Grass – 2016 (Hadley Music Grouop)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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CDs by Ilya Tolshinskiy

It has been a decade since Ilya Toshinsky's former group, the Russian-born, Nashville touted Bering Strait, disbanded after a couple of attempts to create a bluegrass-country hybrid that would conquer American audiences. Toshinskiy has stuck around, opening a studio and doing session work on banjo, guitar and mandolin for Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire and many many more.

As a guitarist, he's a two-time ACM winner and a five-time Music Row award winner, but for his new solo album, Toshinskiy goes back to his first love, banjo, and a slate of inventive instrumental numbers.

As a Nashville studio veteran, Toshinskiy undoubtedly had his pick of players for his own recording sessions, and the credits read like an awards show list of acoustic superstars: Bryan Sutton on guitar, Byron House on bass, Andy Leftwich and Aubrey Haynie on mandolin and fiddle, Jerry Douglas on Dobro, Luke Bulla on fiddle and Sam Bush on mandolin.

It's a testament to Toshinskiy's compositional dexterity that the talent doesn't outshine the material here; the unselfish playing shines on quieter fare such as the gently plucked "Changing Direction" as well as the flashier, faster tunes such as the traditional-sounding "Old River." Fans of Noam Pikelny's instrumental albums will find plenty to enjoy here, as Toshinskiy possesses a similarly emotional feel to his playing that elevates the proceedings above mere technical prowess.

The final cut, appropriately titled "Swan Song," is a nod to Toshinskiy's classical upbringing, featuring just him and his banjo in a European/Slavic sounding melodic progression that's different from anything else on the album but equally engaging - just as Toshinskiy could be described, as a Russian fitting in to the Nashville musical scene.