Pleasant Valley Music
In the liner notes to his debut album, Matt Dudman, an outstanding mandolin player, singer and songwriter, describes its contents simply as, “some of my favorite rare songs done in the style I like best.” That style is old-timey bluegrass and gospel, done in the tradition of greats like the Stanley Brothers and Jimmy Martin, along with the gospel quartet vocal style introduced to mainstream audiences largely by the Statler Brothers.
On Poa (which Dudman also produced), he certainly does his musical forefathers justice. He’s not only steeped himself in their styles, but has mastered them inside and out.
Dudman, has performed with numerous bands in northern California over the years, and enjoyed particular regional popularity along with Jake Quesenberry in a duo called The Macrae Brothers. This time around he’s assembled a cadre of top-flight musicians, most of them fellow Californians.
These include Dudman himself (vocals, mandolin, guitar and bass), former Bill Monroe Bluegrass Boy Sandy Rothman (baritone vocals and bass), Ed Neff (fiddle), David Putnam (lead vocals and guitar), Paul Squyres (lead and bass vocals and guitar) and Pat Flory (lead and baritone vocals and guitar).
To mention just a few highlights, “Johnny & Lulu” (cowritten by Jake Quesenberry and Dudman) is a sordid and chilling murder ballad delivered in an off-handed manner that merely highlights its tragic impact.
“Thinking Of Home” (R. Park and V. Williams) is the heartfelt lament of a country boy stranded far from home in the big city. “Brave And Trembling Motorman” (Quesenberry and Dudman) is another graphic ballad, this one about a grisly railroad accident. The vocal and instrumental interplay here, as elsewhere, is right on the mark.
Poa is obviously a high-water mark on Dudman’s long musical journey; it’s also rootsy West Coast bluegrass at its best.