A return to the music one chose to make early on can be like a return journey home. Not surprisingly then, guitarist Francois Vola can relate to that same scenario. His descriptively titled album, Back to Bluegrass, offers the French-born musician and one-time North Carolina transplant, an opportunity to revisit the music he initially explored after emigrating to the U.S. in the 1970s as a young man in his early 20s. He recorded several albums in the years after, including a 1983 eponymous effort that found him enlisting famed fiddler Byron Berline and noted banjo player John Hickman.
While an extended excursion into jazz has occupied most of his time since, Vola is now back where he beleives he belongs. Accompanied by a new group of able accomplices — Darol Anger on violin, Emory Lester on mandolin, and Matt Flinner on banjo — he’s created a superb if somewhat understated set of songs, flush with emotion and allure but uncluttered and exacting, all at the same time.
“The songs on this CD are songs about life and experiences, done in the style of music I love, bluegrass,” Vola explains on the inside sleeve. “I had been away from bluegrass for a while doing jazzy stuff, now Back to Bluegrass.”
It’s a somewhat simple explanation, but give his adept — and some might say, abrupt — transition, the music makes it seem like he’s never really left. This series of supple melodies proves instantly engaging, and the fact that Vola migrated back to France 20 years ago appears to have enhanced the sentiment expressed in such songs as the title track, North Carolina Is My Home, Goin’ Down The River of Life, and Barjols Hop, each of which are expressed with an easy, unhurried approach that encourages the listener to lean in and share in the sentiment. A few well-placed instrumentals affirm his acumen, while the laid-back settings provide a timely respite from some of the busier varieties of music often encountered these days. Ultimately, Back To Bluegrass provides a refreshing change of pace from a hectic world, and a welcome return for an artist whose efforts provide the distinct appeal and an obvious appreciation everyone can enjoy.