Floyd, Virginia (population about 430), certainly qualifies as a small town. But it has a city-sized place in bluegrass and old-time music history, as exemplified by the Pix Theater building on West Main Street. Bill and Charlie Monroe performed there, it once housed County Sales and its County Records label, and now it’s home to the Floyd Music School. Co-founded in 2005 by singer, songwriter, fiddler and guitarist Mike Mitchell and Jennifer Brooke, the school offers instruction in traditional Southern music and classical as well. Now, Mitchell proves that he wonderfully practices what he teaches with his album Small Town.
Mike has assembled a fine team to complement his considerable talents. Award-winning bass player and producer Mark Schatz is here in both capacities. Tommy Morse (of the Mike Mitchell Trio) shares banjo duties very well with Sammy Shelor. Jesse Smathers contributes great tenor harmonies. And the strong yet nimble mandolin picking of Jarrod Walker is an especially good fit for Mitchell’s material.
There’s a pleasing selection of classics, including Ola Belle Reed’s “High On A Mountain,” Don Devanney’s “Listening To The Rain” (which became an Osborne Brothers hit), and the Kenny Baker instrumental “Grassy Fiddle Blues.” But what especially makes Small Towna listener destination is Mike Mitchell’s distinctive songwriting on eight of the album’s 12 tracks. Among the standouts is “Tell It To My Face,” with Mike’s smooth vocal also containing a palpable measure of pain and frustration. “Young Love On The Mountain” is a lonesome, minor-keyed number with a compelling story line. And there’s also quite a tale lurking within “Amanda Dead”—did the singer have a bad dream last night? Or is it the memory of a terrible event now largely blacked out from his mind?
A true landmark on Small Town’s musical main street is “Jenny Lynne.” It’s not the old fiddle tune beloved of Bill Monroe’s Uncle Pen, but a Mitchell original (perhaps inspired by Miss Jennifer?). Mark Schatz contributes flavorful old-time clawhammer banjo and Claire Lynch guests on vocals. Fittingly enough, it speaks of love and commitment; qualities which Mike Mitchell brings to his music, shining through on Small Town. (FMS Records, P.O. Box 468, Floyd, VA 24091, www.mikemitchellmusic.com.)RDS