Mike Barnett was already a well-regarded musician before accepting the fiddle gig recently with Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder. His first album was released while he was just 14, and while attending the Berklee College of Music he was invited to join David Grisman’s band. Tours with Tony Trischka and Bryan Sutton are on his resume, as well as serving as a member of the short-lived but highly influential New England group, The Deadly Gentlemen.
We first noticed this versatile and virtuosic artist with the release of One Song Romance, a collection of his original songs and tunes, in 2014. It demonstrated his comfort with a variety of contemporary acoustic string music styles, which are explored anew on his latest Compass album, Portraits In Fiddles. Playing with Barnett on this project is an almost absurd list of top bluegrass pickers and singers: Mike Bub, Michael Daves, Stuart Duncan, Casey Campbell, Chris Eldridge, Grant Gordy, David Grier, David Grisman, Sam Grisman, Alex Hargreaves, Bobby Hicks, Ethan Jodziewicz, Dominick Leslie, Rob McCoury, Jesse McReynolds, Tim Mensy, Tim O’Brien, Jeff Picker, Noam Pikelny, Buddy Spicher, Bryan Sutton, and Tony Trischka.
Once again his love for modern bluegrass, the fiddle tune tradition, and the vast catalog of old time music shows across the selections. There are also tributes to some of his mentors in reworkings of classics like David Grisman’s Waiting On Vassar and Jesse McReynolds’ Dixie Howdown.
That record isn’t due to hit until next month, but Mike has agreed to share a track with our readers, their arrangement of Irish singer/songwriter Paul Brady’s Mary and the Soldier.
“Over a decade ago, I discovered Mary and the Soldier while listening to Paul Brady’s album The Missing Liberty Tapes. It’s one of my favorite melodies in music, an all-around moving song that has brought me to tears on numerous occasions. When I heard Tim O’Brien’s album The Crossing and discovered the track Down in the Willow Garden with Paul and Tim singing together, I just about lost it. Tim has always been a huge inspiration to me, and I think a lot of people can agree that his voice and music are so compelling and just, RIGHT.
Sam Grisman and I were hanging out in Nashville one afternoon listening to music, brainstorming about another song to record with Bryan, Casey, and Stuart. When Mary and the Soldier came up, I knew immediately that we had to record it with Tim. I’m so grateful that he was able to sing it.
Afterwards he said, ‘I’ve been trying to learn how to sing that song for… my whole life!’ “
Pre-orders for Portraits In Fiddles are available now in multiple formats from the Compass Records web site.