Review: Fiddle Masters Concert Series Vol. I

Fiddle Masters Volume 1The Violin Shop is a well-established music outlet on Old Hickory Boulevard in Nashville, Tennessee, owned by Fred Carpenter. He has been a violin/fiddle player for over 42 years and has over 27 years of experience in the violin and bow trade, including years at the workbench.

Carpenter has worked with the Tony Rice Unit and with Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band. He is a recording artist in his own right.

In Spring 2005, Carpenter built a 50-seat concert room onto the side of his shop. In the Fall of that year he began promoting a series of concerts featuring, what else, fiddle players, and top names have rosined a bow there too. All concerts have been recorded on video.

It is the product of some of these first recordings that is featured on the first of the Fiddler Masters DVDs.

Appearing on this collection are Andy Leftwich (of Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder), old-time fiddle master Bruce Molsky, Jim VanCleve (of Mountain Heart), Bobby Hicks (possibly the top single fiddler to play both the bluegrass and western swing styles) and Aubrey Haynie (a regular with The Time Jumpers, a group made up of touring and studio musicians who enjoy jamming with each other at the Station Inn).

Molsky plays five pieces solo, including Last Of Gallahan and Peg & Awl, both on the fiddle, but switches to guitar for the tune Brothers & Sisters and the song Poor Cowboy. I cannot say how it was on the night that Molsky appeared at The Violin Shop, but the guitar interludes provide an enjoyable variation within the context of the video.

The other four fiddlers appear accompanied by their own pick-up band chosen from Byron House, Cody Kilby, Wyatt Rice, Charlie Cushman, Alan Bibey, Adam Steffey, Kent Blanton, Clay Jones, Ron Stewart, Jason Moore and Steve Gulley. It would be unfair to single out any of the support musicians for praise; all shine very brightly. While the setting is a showcase for fiddlers, each person called upon to take a break shows how superb they are at their craft.

VanCleve steps into spotlight on four occasions, performing his own #6 Barn Dance, the rollicking opener, Ride The Wild Turkey, and a barn-storming version of Big Mon.

Hicks appears just twice, playing two Monroe tunes including the twin fiddle show stopper Roanoke, which is played with Haynie on the other fiddle. What a night that must have been!

Haynie features on four other occasions, playing a couple of PD tunes, Red Wing and Ragtime Annie; and Arthur Smith’s Florida Blues and the western-swing favourite Maiden’s Prayer. A lovely set that tests Haynie’s versatility and he doesn’t disappoint.

Leftwich does four tunes also, two of which he composed himself; All Things New and Faultline. Topping the bill is his showcase piece, Stephane Grapelli’s Minor Swing. Leftwich switches to demonstrate how proficient he is on mandolin by playing that instrument on Over Cincinnati and Faultline. The former is briefly presented with a split screen, used while Cody Kilby plays a guitar solo.

Ronnie Bowman gets in on the act with the only song among the 20 pieces on this DVD, singing Love For An Angel, backed by VanCleve, Steffey, Stewart, Jones, Gulley and Moore.

The setting is intimate and the lighting emphasizes that intimacy with just a single light it would appear to pick out the soloist.

The camera work is professional with eight different camera-men used in all. Carpenter himself serves as Producer and shares with Jeff Wilson the roles of Director and Editor. They all should be very pleased with their work.

This set lasts 75 minutes and investment in this DVD will bring top quality musicianship and entertainment for all of that time. I’m now going to watch Volume II.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.