Bluegrass Songs & Tunes for Bare Mandolin & Guitar

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Bluegrass icon Jack Tottle has a ton of stories to tell, I’m sure. Here, he unfurls a bounty of wonderful, inventive original instrumentals and other tunes to let those stories shine. Buoyed by the floational flatpicking guitar of Tim Stafford, Tottle presents 13 original and traditional tunes here in a mostly traditional bluegrass style, sans banjo or fiddle.

Rising to the challenge of playing “bare,” Jack and Tim summon their best tone magic and work coherently to create a bigger sound than one might associate with such a small combo. Tottle’s mandolin sound isn’t the powerhouse rest stroke or terrified hummingbird tremolo of Monroe. It’s lighter and more delicate, reminiscent of much of Jesse McReynolds’ playing, a subject of his intense study and writing in classics like his Bluegrass Mandolin on Oak Publications.

Joining Tottle here we find the always brilliant lead and rhythm guitar of Tim Stafford, merged with very tasty guitar work from Tottle himself on several tunes.

A longtime bluegrass industry veteran, Tottle knows how to inject great energy and passion into his music, like his driving rendition of the under-played tune “Cindy,” featuring a smooth as polished steel guitar solo, filled with clever melodic references and Stafford’s usual down-the-rabbit-hole inspired askew touches. His mountain soul-tinged “The Still Voice Inside” should be an instant classic in bluegrass gospel repertoire.

Tottle’s instrumentals, like the quicksilver “Slickville,” show great skill in crafting memorable pieces. Here he pays the utmost respect to the cross-picking style invented by Jesse McReynolds. A fine tenor singer himself, Tottle throws his full weight into the original tunes here, aided by a fellow East Tennessee State University executive Stephanie Cole and Stafford on harmonies, with a lovely walking bass part from Bill Dunham on “Wabash Blues.” And Tottle sagely closes the CD out on a nifty bit of original swing, “You Don’t Have To Sing The Blues.”

Bluegrass Songs & Tunes For Bare Bluegrass Mandolin and Guitar delivers just what its title promises. For anyone whose familiarity with Jack Tottle lies solely in his instructional materials, here’s a great way to listen in on the man’s years of great stories.

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