Compass Records 747372

   Michael Cleveland’s exceptional talent has been obvious from a very early age. On Tall Fiddler, Cleveland shows multiple sides of his musical talent as it has grown into full bloom. Unlike his CDs with The Flamekeepers, Cleveland’s solo CDs give him the freedom to work with other musicians and tackle material that might not work with his stage band. And he takes full advantage of that musical freedom here.

We get to hear Michael play Peter Rowan’s “High Lonesome Sound” with Del McCoury on lead vocals, Jason Carter playing twin fiddles, and Ronnie McCoury on mandolin. He follows with a twisted mountain modal tune of hard times sung gloriously by Tim O’Brien and Jeff White (the project’s co-producer) on harmony vocals.

On a project like this, favorites simply don’t exist. Cleveland superbly mixes genres and instrumentation here to make a wonderfully multi-faceted and fascinating record. Del comes back with the rock-solid Flamekeepers to sing “Beauty Of My Dreams” at a rip. In a dream match-up, Michael pairs with Sam Bush to sing one of John Hiatt’s greatest tunes, “Tennessee Plates.” It’s Cleveland rocking out with Sammy on slide mandolin and lead vocals, drummer supreme Larry Atamanuik, and Guthrie Trapp on electric. Cleveland bears down on this one, showing a rock-and-roll spirit in his fiery playing.

Every track brings a new surprise and treat, with songs featuring Bela Fleck, Tommy Emmanuel, Dan Tyminski, Jerry Douglas, Ronnie McCoury, and more. The title-tune is an acoustic rave-up with Cleveland and Emmanuel trading killer licks, edging each other along as the song progresses. If this isn’t on your list of must-have CDs, it sure should be. Tall Fiddler stands tall. (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, www.compassrecords.com.)DJM

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