A large part of the essence of bluegrass is enthusiasm. Without that element, even the most skillful execution is pales in comparison. So while Matt Dudman might be new to some, this California-based musician’s dedication to the form is well expressed in the upbeat attitude he shares throughout Poa, his debut disc. Happily then, he blends exuberance and emotion in equal measure.
So too, while the album is stamped with a consistently upbeat and engaging imprint, songs such as Everyone Knew It But Me, How Will I Explain About You, My Main Trial Is Yet To Come, and Let Me Be A Souvenir still manage to wring emotion from every refrain, a reflection of the honesty and integrity Matt and his compatriots invest in each of these entries.
Dudman, who takes center stage on mandolin, graciously allows his support players — Sandy Rothman (banjo and vocals), Ed Neff (fiddle), David Putnam (guitar, vocals), Paul Squyres (guitar, vocals), and Pat Flory (guitar, vocals) — to share the spotlight with him, with the result that Poa is a real ensemble effort rather than the sole achievement of the man whose name is highest on the marquee. While Dudman also excels on bass, guitar, and vocals, no one individual overshadows the others. As a result, the harmonies and instrumentation remain solidly in sync throughout. Nowhere is that more evident than on Whitlow Junction, a sturdy instrumental that reflects the acumen of all those involved.
In actual fact, it’s little surprise that Dudman has managed to shape such a cohesive effort. Although this may be his first solo album per se, he’s had ample experience performing in a variety of bands for well over 20 years. That’s allowed him to hone his skills in several collaborative situations in which the music has coalesced and conformed to a common sound. So too, while these melodies hew to a traditional tack, they mostly consist of contemporary compositions written by Dudman and his colleagues. Still, it would be easy to mistake any of these offering, particularly Squyres’ Every Lonesome Night, No Reason To Cry, and The River Is Risin’ from tunes of a vintage variety.
Here again, Dudman’s devotion to the form is apparent, giving Poa an authenticity that could easily share a shelf alongside work by the Stanley Brothers or Bill Monroe. That’s no minor achievement, and in fact, one reason why it resonates so impressively all on its own.