Mike Mitchell’s unfettered affection for bluegrass has always been apparent. As as a singer, fiddler, viola player, and instructor, his dedication to making music has been evident with each of his four albums, but it’s especially now, courtesy of this vibrant new offering from Turnberry Records, Fathers and Sons. Both touching and tender, resilient and resolute, it’s a concept album and song cycle of sorts, one which details the intrinsic bond between, well, fathers and sons. In so doing, it shares both the commitment and complications those relationships often entail. It’s all relayed respectively and, at times, reverently as well. Mitchell is an astute observer who draws from his own memories and the experiences others have shared as well.
The songs veer from rousing to reflective, with an outstanding group of contributing musicians ensuring that an emphatic impression is made throughout. The players — Mitchell (lead vocals and fiddles), Jason Moore (bass), Joey Mosley (guitar), Jake Mosley (mandolin), Tray Wellington (banjo), Jesse Smathers (tenor vocals), Jesse Brock (baritone vocals), and Greg Blake (guest vocals) — put equal emphasis on the melodies as well as the messaging. Mitchel himself had a hand in writing eleven of the thirteen songs, with two covers — bluegrass classics Love of the Mountains and Summer Wages — finding a fit with the original offerings.
Taken in tandem, the stories shared in these songs come across as both affectionate and affecting. Uncommon Man, for example, offers homage to an individual who gives up his dreams in order to give priority to his family first and foremost. Reach Out Your Hand shares the unfortunate fate of a wayward son who leaves his parents in a fit of fury, only to beg for their help later on. It Rained details the results of a natural catastrophe, and the effect it had on a town and its inhabitants.
Mitchell possesses a soulful spirituality, but his temporal side is also evident as well. That’s evidenced by I Gave My Heart (To the Girl Who Gave Her Heart To Jesus). As the song suggests, even the most romantic overtures pale when it comes to the pull of divine devotion.
Through it all, Mitchell manifests his dedication to making music through his obvious enthusiasm. The mood is established early on with I Hear Banjos, an exuberant expression of joy and jubilation. As the song indicates, there’s no limit to the depth of his devotion. As a result, that joy is spread to all who bear witness along the way.