This may be the best time ever in Michael Cleveland’s career. Known as one of the bluegrass world’s best fiddlers since he was very young, Cleveland and Flamekeeper have four IBMA Instrumental Group Of The Year nods and he has individually won nine IBMA Fiddler Of The Year awards. What’s cool about recent years, however, is that Cleveland is backed by a steady and solid version of Flamekeeper that is sounding better than ever.
On Down The Line is Cleveland’s new album and it finds him as strong as ever on the fiddle. The members of Flamekeeper include Glenn Gibson on banjo, Nathan Livers on mandolin, Tyler Griffith on bass, and Josh Richards on guitar. The album comes out of the gate with a fired-up straight-ahead bluegrass version of Julian Lennon’s “Too Late For Goodbyes.” While that’s fun, they also mix up the tempos on this album nicely, utilizing everybody’s talent in the band. Next up is the rollicking “Fiddlin’ Joe,” followed by the old-school country feel of “Just Call Me Crazy.” “Come Along Jody” is an instrumental that features Cleveland and Livers trading mandolin and fiddle riffs, followed by the barn-burning Richards-penned original, “Johnny Thompson.” There is even a little bit of Western Swing in the mix with “Me And My Fiddle.”
The rest of the album is filled with excellent traditional bluegrass with the highlights being “That Ole’ Train,” “The Sunny Side Of Town,” “She Ain’t Sayin’,” and Cleveland doing a solo version of “Jack O Diamonds.” And, to put a definitive exclamation mark on the proceedings, Cleveland and crew rip into a fireworks-laden “Orange Blossom Special” at the end. (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, www.compassrecords.com.)DH