Compass Records 4674
Since bursting onto the scene as one of IBMA’s Kids On Bluegrass, Michael Cleveland has become perhaps the most honored bluegrass fiddler of his generation. Blessed with astonishing gifts in overall musicianship and in his utter command of every style and nuance known to the fiddle world, Cleveland and his band, the Flamekeepers, have left audiences enthralled and fellow musicians in awe everywhere they’ve played.
Now, Michael comes along with a solo CD intended to showcase more than just his bluegrass fiddling. Produced by the legendary Jeff White and packed with A-list superstars including Sam Bush, Barry Bales, Vince Gill, Andy Statman, Jerry Douglas, and more, Fiddler’s Dream showcases Cleveland’s immense talents as a fiddler, mandolinist, and composer.
Packed with excellent originals like “Sunday Drive” and “Blues For Bill,” Cleveland’s CD also includes brilliant renditions of classic tunes like “Tall Timber,” which he rips up here in a duet with Jason Carter. Drifting off-course into straight country, Michael tosses in a honky-tonk tearjerker, “Where Is Your Heart Tonight,” sung by Carter and featuring the mewling steel guitar of the legendary Paul Franklin.
There’s something for all fans of bluegrass to love here. Sam Bush sings a lovely rendition of John Hartford’s “Steamboat Whistle Blues,” where Cleveland channels the musical ghost of Vassar Clements so perfectly, it’ll send chills down your spine. Jeff White and Vince Gill team up for a blistering version of “Unwanted Love.” And one of the reasons Cleveland says he wanted to do this project was to give himself the chance to lay down the fiddle and play mandolin, which he does here on multiple tracks.
Living in his home state of Indiana, I’ve had the chance to hang out and pick with Michael Cleveland from time to time, and the guy is simply made of music. Where others work through stringing together a few coherent licks, Cleveland takes solo after solo that sound carefully practiced even though they’re improvised on the spot. We all love his traditional fiddle work, channeling the ghosts of Benny Martin, Tex Logan, and other bluegrass greats. But here, the man shows a dazzling array of musical skills that never fails to entertain and delight. This may be Michael Cleveland’s Fiddler’s Dream, but it will be a musical wake-up call for fans who’ve only heard his work with the Flamekeepers. (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, www.compassrecords.com.)DJM