When I first caught wind of Jake Workman, he was living in Utah and performing with Driven, a Kansas-based band featuring the McLemore brothers. Both Jake and his lovely wife, Rebekah played in the group, and I first got to meet them the next year, when they were invited showcase artists at World of Bluegrass in 2014.
The following year, when Cody Kilby left Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder after 14 years, Workman got the call, and began commuting back and forth between Nashville and his home in Draper, UT until he and Rebekah could make the move. Since appearing regularly with Skaggs all over the country, Jake’s reputation has swelled with flat pickers everywhere marveling at his remarkable speed, clarity, and dexterity.
Late last year he released Landmark, his first solo album since hitting the big time, a self-produced project that showcases not only his prodigious technique, but also his subtle tune writing skills. The record is all-instrumental, and by tracking primarily with the same core group of musicians, it maintains a band feel that is often lacking in super picker show off volumes. Sierra Hull plays mandolin, Stuart Duncan fiddle, Russ Carson banjo, and Jeff Picker bass, all of whom are more than able to match Jake lick for lick, whether on raucous breakdowns like Down In The Dirt or Redwood, or more reflective numbers like Hickory Snow or Star City.
Workman demonstrates a facile command of several styles within the flatpicking genre. He works out his chops on a tasty version of the competition standard, Black and White Rag, with just two guitars, contest style, complete with a diminished tag. There is also a very bluesy workout on Ricky Skaggs’ Old Newberry, with the boss man on mandolin, and a new acoustic anthem, Salty Flatt, where the mandolin takes the lead, with nice reso-guitar from Justin Moses and some precision unison playing at the end.
All but three tracks are Jake’s tunes, the aforementioned Black and White Rag and Old Newberry, plus a rippin’ run through Earl Scruggs’ Pike County Breakdown. Carson is highlighted on the latter, though everyone gets a taste, with Workman laying down a marker with his guitar solo.
Another highlight is Charleston to Dublin, which starts out like a reel, only to quickly transform into a jig with whistle and accordion from Jeff Taylor, and fiddle from Rebekah Workman.
A trained ear will pick up influences from many of today’s top guitarists, but not in a stealing licks fashion, more as an homage. One song you many pick up a Kenny Smith/Norman Blake vibe, and on the next, a seminar on Tim Stafford floaties, but what you don’t hear is the incessant quoting of Tony Rice that has become a staple in our music.
There is much for flatpick fans to pore over on Landmark, and I can envision a good many students of the guitar slowing this one down to cop some licks. But everyone who appreciates quality acoustic music should enjoy this album from start to finish.
I would call Landmark a triumph.