The debut recording from Mr. Sun, billed as “American string band music from an intergenerational tribe” features the formidably fantastic Darol Anger (fiddle), Joe Walsh (mandolin and vocals), Grant Gordy (guitar), and Ethan Jodziewicz (bass). The careful reader of liner notes may stay up pondering questions like the following one Anger asks: “What does it mean to inhabit American string music, rather than re-invent it? Can we say we are innovating when we each simply play from a powerfully personal point of view?” Or the following observation: “I’m coming around to the idea that there are no musical genres as such, only human beings who emanate musical presences of varying power, in unique combinations.”
As he suggests, perhaps the best advice is to forget about categorizing something as joyful and fun and powerful as music, and rather simply crank up the volume and dance. “The Likes Of You” sung by Joe Walsh is a reminder of what an incredibly clever songwriter Randall Hylton was. It’s one of only two vocals on the album, but you don’t realize it because the instruments sing, sparkle, skip, sob, and scream like voices throughout the entire album. “The Fiddler’s Boot,” one of the aforementioned skipping variety of tune, was written by Anger and inspired by a memorable conversation he had with Della Mae’s Kimber Ludiker about funny fiddle tune titles. “A Little Heart’s Ease,” written by Walsh, is a dream-like, unpretentious beauty of a melody written as a tribute to Newfoundland and its people.
“Hunter’s Permit,” written by Walsh and Scott Law, explores sparkling jazz territory, building to a frenzied climax. “A Stranger Comes To Town,” co-written by Walsh and Gordy, kicks off with a guitar melody that could have come from Norman Blake’s hands. Gordy describes “Ben’s House,” written on a winter morning at fellow musician Ben Krakhauer’s house in Cambridge, as “an attempt to harmonize a bass line—perpetually descending in minor thirds—in a way which sounds musical.” The band swings the soup out of “If I Were A Bell” from Guys And Dolls and the jazz standard “After You’ve Gone.”
“The People Need Light” has an African-American spiritual vibe that puts the listener on shouting ground. “Key Signator” is an Anger instrumental that the rest of the bandmembers learned off his album years before having the pleasure of performing and recording it with him. Highly recommended. If you’re uneasy listening to a mostly all-instrumental album, feel free to make up your own words and dance steps. (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, www.compassrecords.com.)NC