Jordan Tice is one of the sweetest-playing acoustic guitarists these days. "Horse County" is designed to showcase his admirable talents and accomplishes this goal with great success. Tice is from the post-bluegrass generation of instrumentalists: steeped in the bluegrass and mountain tradition, he embraces the basic instrumentation of the genre, but adds extended breaks, the odd time and tempo change and a general appreciation for the music whilst extending it beyond its original form.
Fair or unfair, Tice is in the orbit of the constellation of musicians who collaborate with the Punch Brothers, and the ethos of that particular musical solar system is at play on "Horse County." Chris Eldredge, another estimable guitarist, and Punch brethren co-produced "Horse County" (along with Tice) with startling clarity and precision. Mike Witcher, a fine Dobro player, joins in on several tracks, along with the outstanding mandolinist Dominic Leslie (late of the Deadly Gentlemen and now touring with Phoebe Hunt). Punch brethren Noam Pikelny also lends a hand on a couple of tracks.
Instrumental pieces dominate "Horse County" as if to underscore the serious technical skill at play here. "Horse County Rag" stands out, as does "Craig," which has a swing feel, enriched by Witcher's Dobro work. "Craig" seems to follow a simple form, but leads nicely into "Various Sauces," which features improvisation (or, at least, experimentation) with sweet counterpoints between Leslie and Tice.
Tice offers up some effective vocals in the mix, notably on "Poor Me" and "Way Downtown." Tice's frequent collaborator Brittany Hass contributes some fine fiddle turns and occasional harmony as well.
Music these days is consumed in stream-sized portions. "Horse County" is better enjoyed as a full-course meal. The tone and energy are easy-going, belying the layered artistic contributions. "Horse County" should be appreciated in its entirety, whether part of a road trip or as an enriching accompaniment to more mundane activities. It's just a beautiful piece of work with technical assuredness and clever playing.