Talk about a legend. At age 90, Jesse McReynolds is celebrating his 55th year as a Grand Ole Opry member and 70-plus years as a professional musician. Yet the real star and centerpiece of Jesse’s first album in nine years is not the man himself. Rather it’s a fiddle, and a very old fiddle at that—as old as 200 years, according to McReynolds. To be more specific, it’s a Stradivarius-style fiddle that Jesse’s grandfather Matthew McReynolds bought in the late nineteenth century for seven dollars and played on the groundbreaking Bristol Sessions in 1927.
In the course of these 16 tracks, the venerated old instrument changes hands many times, giving an array of top-notch fiddlers a crack at it. These include Steve Thomas, Corrina Rose Logston, Jim Buchanan, Michael Cleveland, Buddy Griffin, Travis Wetzel, Jim Brock, Eddie Stubbs, Glen Duncan, and McReynolds himself. The result is some lively old-time fiddle-driven bluegrass odes and breakdowns drawn heavily from the traditional songbook. The tunes include universally renowned chestnuts such as “Turkey In The Straw” (Buddy Griffin on fiddle), “Sally Goodwin” (one of five cuts on which McReynolds fiddles), “Leather Britches” (also McReynolds), “Soldier’s Joy” (Michael Cleveland), and “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (once again McReynolds).
What’s particularly delightful about this mostly-instrumental collection is the way an ancient instrument, in the hands of masters, can still breathe fire into bluegrass music’s ancient tones. (Pinecastle Records, 2514 River Rd., Ste. 105, Piedmont, SC 29673, www.pinecastlemusic.com.)BA