A final word from Butch Baldassari

SoundArt Recordings has announced an early August release for a new project from Butch Baldassari and Van Manakas, Leavin’ Tennessee, which was completed shortly before Butch succumbed to an aggressive brain cancer in 2009.

The album features Butch on mandolin with his friend Van Manakas, renowned for his eclectic electric guitar. The unlikely pair are out front on a set of bluegrass instrumentals, with Byron House on bass and Scott Vestal on banjo. The great Bobby Hicks joins them on fiddle, as do Stuart Duncan, Shadd Cobb and Barbara Lamb.

Butch, who was only 56 years old when he passed, had quite a career as a mandolinist. He was a well-respected player – with memorable stints in Weary Hearts and Lonesome Standard Time – and a fine writer of tunes for his instrument. He released several albums of his music, even before he founded his own label, Soundart Recordings. As an educator, Baldassari left behind quite a library of instructional materials, and was a fierce defender of the need for mandolinists to become literate in traditional music notation.

Manakas is a Berklee-trained guitarist who has made a mark in both jazz and country guitar. As a young man, he worked with jazz legend Gil Evans, and released a number of solo guitar records, and collaborations with pianist Scott Cossu. Van’s 2000 album, American Guitar, found him in a chicken-pickin’ mode, simply destroying his Telecaster on 14 tracks of mostly original music in a hybrid Ventures/Albert Lee mode.

He also has a fascination and facility with bluegrass and traditional fiddle music, as you can see in this clip of him jamming with Andy Statman.


The 17 tracks on Leavin’ Tennessee include both familiar favorites (Cotton Patch Rag, Bluegrass In The Backwoods, Fiddler’s Dream), but consists primarily of Manakas originals. Sounds like a fun ride to me.

We’ll have more details soon once we get our copy.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.