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Canadian mandolinist, composer, and stringed-instrumental master Andrew Collins has shown repeatedly his skills as a soloist, arranger, and creator of fine music in styles ranging from north-of-the-border bluegrass to the most modern and progressive acoustic music. Now, he’s out with a paired-CD project, one called Tongue, the other Groove, that matches his unique skillset perfectly with bandmates Mike Mezzatesta on guitar and other stringed instruments, and bassist James McEleney.

Together, these three top-shelf musicians have been playing and working together long enough to create a solid ensemble that approaches Collins’ compositions and the cover tunes they selected here with confidence and grace. Tonguefocuses on mostly cover tunes, ranging from rock and pop artists such as Graham Nash and Nick Drake, the immortal country songwriter Roger Miller and legendary singer Ray Price, and even the Tin Pan Alley songwriter Irving Caesar who created “Just A Gigolo.”

Blending mandolin, violin, mandocello, bass, and vocals, the trio creates a memorable sonic landscape on Drake’s haunting “Cello Song” to open the CD. From there, the band morphs into country-swing on “I Drink Whiskey,” featuring some very tight harmony playing. “Black Veil” carries the haunting tale of “Long Black Veil” into new territory, drawing deep from the mountain-modal well. As you’d expect, “Gigolo” arrives as a fresh pop standard, complete with a very classy guitar solo from Mezzatesta that sounds like the great archtop guitarists of the 1950s, before slipping into more of an uptempo rendition with a cool mandolin/scat vocal by Collins. “King Midas In Reverse” delivers a killer intro with mandocello, guitar, and bass that adds a cool funk groove to Nash’s great song.

The TongueCD credibly reflects a variety of styles from country blues to modern folk. Instrumentally, the group consistently delivers great playing that focuses on the melody and working with other bandmates. Vocally, Andrew Collins has a voice that’s a bit thin and reedy. Live, his stage persona and delivery help offset that, but at times, it lacks the warmth and control needed to deliver some songs well.

On Groove, the band definitely hits its stride as they sweep into a set of instrumentals, mostly written by Collins. The opening cut, “Famous Last Words,” avoids sounding like Grisman or any other mandolin-based instrumental band, as does the deeply funky “The Grumpus.” The clever melody and driving beat of “Big Toaster” could make it a modern camp jam classic. And their mashup of Pink Floyd member Roger Waters’ “Goodbye Blue Sky” and “Ship In The Clouds” sounds glorious in their hands.

“Sunlight At Midnight” (who but a Canadian would write such a tune) is a masterwork—milling a great, compelling melody over haunting chord changes. McEleney’s bass lays down the rhythmic law as the mandolin and guitar soar here. And when the band does indulge itself in a little Grisman on the last cut, it’s on the rarely covered “Dawg Grass” which gives a familiar tune a fresh sound and feel.

Tongueand Grooveis a highly ambitious project from a talented young Canadian band. There are a few bumps along the road, and some listeners may never take to Collins’ voice, but fans of great mandolin/violin/bass/guitar ensemble music should find much to love here. (

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