North Carolina fiddler Tim Smith is back with a second album under the title, Fiddler Tim Smith & Friends – Volume 2. Like its namesake, this record combines Smith’s clever original instrumentals with popular standards and a couple of Gospel classics.
Also like his previous effort, Smith surrounds himself with a core band in the form of Jeff Huffman on guitar and Zak McLamb on bass, supplemented by other accompanists as needed.These include Wayne Benson on mandolin, Eric Ellis and Rick Norris on banjo, Clyde Mattocks on reso-guitar, Frederico Pivetta o piano, and Al Batten and Laurelyn Dossett as guest vocalists.
Smith’s fiddle, though, is the star and his compositions for the instrument serve as the highlights of this project. Eight of the fourteen tracks are his, and they cover a wide range from Kenny Baker-influenced bluegrass to jazzy swing and old timey waltzes and blues.
You might wonder how these various approaches can work on a single album, but be assured that they do. Tim’s mastery of these many styles, and the others that he approaches here ties the concept together for a highly listenable 45 minutes of fiddle music, whether you have ever tried to draw a bow across the strings or not.
Right from the bluesy opening notes of Milford’s Old Fiddle you can feel Smith’s wealth of experience delivering the sort of fiddle music that made Baker such a dominant player in the 1960s and ’70s. From there we jump to a new acoustic ride on Careful Now, highly reminiscent of the music of David Grisman and Tony Rice in the ’80s. But Tim doesn’t emulate the fine fiddlers who worked with Grisman and Rice (like Darol Anger and Richard Greene), instead reflecting his own approach to this still-new classification of music.
Black Horse Hornpipe is a straight up fiddle tune, written by Smith in the style that has survived for generations. Norris’ banjo helps capture that spirit. A more modern fiddle tune is Deadwood with its mountain pentatonic/dorian signature, and Lonesome Fiddler’s Waltz sounds like what you would hear at a town dance when your grandparents were wooing in days gone by.
Country blues gets its due with Mahogany Rock Blues, solidly supported by Huffman and McLamb, while Sweet Spot swings along in a slower tempo, but still with a bluesy motif. Both show Smith with a clear command of his instrument.
The sparse accompaniment on most of these numbers leaves plenty of room for Smith’s fiddle and Huffman’s tasteful guitar. Including additional soloists would have likely cluttered the sound. As it stands the fiddle plays the greatest majority of the tunes, as you might expect from a fiddle album.
The remainder of the tracks not written by Smith include soulful readings of I Am A Pilgrim and Nearer My God To Thee, with dobro on the first and piano on the second, plus a spirited take on the Bill Monroe chestnut, Uncle Pen, with Batten on vocal.
Also strong are a live rendering of Leather Britches with just fiddle and guitar, a swift run through of the jam favorite Blackberry Blossom, and a slow version of the Irish folk song, Red Is The Rose.
The old time fiddle album is a venerable tradition in bluegrass music, supported by many stellar string artists over the past hundred years or so. Tim Smith can be proud to add his to the names that have produced such.
Fiddler Tim Smith & Friends – Volume 2 is a winner.