Bluegrass is one of the few genres of music in which instrumental skill is showcased just as much or more than vocal skill. As such, many of the best known tunes in bluegrass are instrumentals, made for showing off a picker’s skill. Tim Smith, a North Carolina-based fiddler, has recently released an album that does just that, showcasing his fiddling as well as the playing of some of his talented friends. A mixture of originals and old favorites, Fiddler Tim Smith and Friends is sure to be enjoyed by fans of traditionally-based fiddle music.
Smith, a former Bluegrass Cardinal who also spent time playing with Bill Monroe, Jim and Jesse, The Country Gentleman, and numerous other groups, contributes eight originals to this project. Double Play is a Monroe-esque fiddle tune, with a nice chord progression similar to Wheel Hoss. Twin Oaks is an upbeat, toe-tapping traditional-sounding piece, while Oklahoma Road is a light and easygoing midtempo number. The album’s first single, Broadway Limited, was co-written by Smith along with David Guthrie. This tune is a classic train song, and features a nice interplay between the fiddle and dobro.
There’s a nice, slightly bluesy version of the Hank Williams Gospel song I Saw the Light (one of only a few tunes with vocals on the album) that fans of traditional bluegrass are sure to enjoy. The other religious piece here, Just a Closer Walk With Thee, is one of the album’s best cuts, with a slow, jazzy feel. Bill Monroe’s Ashland Breakdown is top-notch, with fine mandolin work from Wayne Benson. Whiskey Before Breakfast is done in a bit more of an old-time style, complete with clawhammer banjo.
The musicians who Smith has chosen to accompany him are first-rate, with Benson’s mandolin stylings particularly standing out. Zachary McLamb is solid on the bass, while Jeff Huffman’s guitar playing is to be commended, as well. These three, along with Eric Ellis on banjo, perform on the majority of the album’s tracks, but Smith is also joined by Wyatt Rice (guitar), David Holt (clawhammer banjo and slide guitar), Will McIntyre (bass), Clyde Mattocks (dobro), and Andrew Smith (guitar). Smith himself is an excellent fiddler, with definite influences from Kenny Baker and other Bill Monroe-style music. He performs complex tunes with ease and offers up originals that are just as enjoyable as the classic tunes he covers.
For more information on Tim Smith, visit his website at www.fiddlertimsmith.com. His new album can be purchased from a variety of online music retailers, including CDBaby.