If there is a talented young bluegrass artist out there somewhere, there’s a good chance that Tom Mindte and Patuxent Records has an eye on them. Their catalog contains many a title from the likely who’s who of the next generation of pickers.
One such is Joshua Palmer, whose Metacognition album came out earlier this year on the Maryland-based label. It highlights his skills as a song and tune writer, a mandolinist, and a vocalist. While admitting that his strongest suit is the first two categories, Josh’s singing is strong enough to sell his songs and to carry his interpretations of material by John Denver and Hamilton Camp.
But frankly, it’s with the mandolin that Palmer really shines. And he doesn’t shy away from comparisons with top players, bringing virtuosi like Scott Vestal, Kenny Smith, Andy Hall, and Nate Leath aboard to perform with him on this CD. He hangs right in there with these bluegrass luminaries, with a solid command of his tone and technique, and the confidence to play his music with authority.
My ear was particularly drawn to the instrumental compositions, which cover the gamut of contemporary mandolin styles. Joshua employs the sort of light touch popularized by Sierra Hull and Chris Thile, and you can hear their influence on numbers like Apollo 11, Dusk and Metacognition. Others shows the influence of Brazilian and Italian mandolin music, as on Poe and The Raven and the Crow. He also includes Misty Morning, a Doyle Lawson tune with a strong Monroe vibe that had appeared on the Bluegrass Album Band, Vol. 6 record in 1996.
These balance nicely against the songs Palmer has penned. Hammer Down is a solid traditional bluegrass movin’ on song, while Train of Tears tells a more contemplative story with a Tony Rice. You hear Rice echoes again on Pride of Man, which Tony famously recorded for his 1983 Church Street Blues album. One might always question to recut anything done as definitively as that one, though it’s a treat to hear Kenny’s guitar accompaniment, and Vestal on banjo.
Mark Schatz, who plays bass on all the tracks, also adds clawhammer banjo to Owl’s Hollow, one Joshua wrote about his home town in Alabama.
Any fan of contemporary bluegrass should enjoy this album, but those who follow current trends in mandolin playing will get the most out of Metacognition. Palmer is a strong new voice on his instrument, and one we should be hearing from a good deal in the years to come.
This is an unusually strong debut project, and he should be proud of it.