Writing instrumental tunes can come as naturally to some musicians as playing them, and the mandolin world is no exception to this trend. Mandologie is a collection of ten mandolin instrumentals composed and played by Jean-Luc Leroux, a French-born picker and bluegrass lover who now resides in New Caledonia in the southwest Pacific Ocean.
As someone who spends a fair amount of time trying to navigate on the eight-string, I’d love to enjoy this album more than I actually did. The tunes themselves are fine, ranging from the slow and moody “In The Air” to the Monroe-esque “Springtime Riff” to “Flair Session Breakdown,” which actually evoked a bit of a classical vibe to my ears.
Leroux has a considerable network of friends who add their skills to the tracks. Those better-known to us in The States include Rob Ickes, Butch Robins, Jim VanCleve, Richard Bailey, Buddy Spicher, Chris Henry, Bob Harris, Jeff Scroggins, and Mike Bub. It’s no surprise that they all play great, so what does stand out are the skillful turns by lesser-known compatriots of Leroux, such as banjoists Jean-Marie Redon and Kelsey Crews, resonator guitarists Thierry Loyer and Lynn Russel, guitarist Thierry Massoubre, and fiddlers Kurt Storey and Matt Hooper.
Leroux’s mandolin playing and tone are inconsistent. “Croquette Danse,” which may be a tribute to David Grisman if the book-ending dog barks are any indication, builds nicely around a rollicking triple-mando overdub, and when his playing is more spare and unhurried, as on “Springtime Riff,” he acquits himself well. Too often, his playing seems a bit too cautious and deliberate, as if he’s trying not to make a mistake, and the tone and groove suffer. It comes as a bit of a relief on the closing track, “Vagabondage” (which translates to “wandering’), as he saunters into the familiar territory of a pair of old warhorse fiddle tunes—“Sally Goodin” and “Bill Cheatham.”
The personnel credits misspell the names of some key guests and omit the names of whomever is playing some really nice guitar on several of the tracks. Most of the featured guests add a lot of spark to the proceedings, although Spicher’s contribution on the last track’s fiddle harmony seems like a wasted opportunity. Tune collectors will enjoy the four tablatures that Leroux has included in the CD package. But Leroux might consider an outside producer to hold his musical feet to the fire and come up with a future project that presents his tunes even better. (countrydanseetmusiquenc.lagoon.nc)HK