Over the years with the Infamous Stringdusters, Jeremy Garrett’s muscular, bluesy fiddle work became an instantly recognizable part of his musical identity. So I was eager to hear how that sound played out on River Wild, his back-to-his-bluegrass-roots CD for Organic Records. No worries. From the start, you’ll know who’s sawin’ on the strings.
What is different, if you’re expecting a Duster-esque sound across the board, is the rest of the musical accompaniment on the 12-song collection. Whether it’s the broad mandolin stylings of Alan Bibey or the varied banjo styles of Gena Britt, Russ Carson, and Ryan Cavanaugh, there are enough tasty bits to please bluegrass fans of all stripes. Binding it all together is the smooth guitar work of Seth Taylor and the bottom end mastery of Barry Bales and the Dusters’ Travis Book.
If there are doubters – I’ve seen walkouts from a Dusters’ show – skip straight to Bill Monroe’s Kentucky Waltz. It’s not a perfectly straight copy (and shouldn’t be). But it’s a cover that will please any devotee of the high lonesome sound. Then go back to the beginning and run it straight through. If you’re breathing and your heart is beating, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be entertained. Maybe not every song will be to your liking, but there’s plenty here that will grab your attention.
Most but not all of my favorites are straight-ahead bluegrass. These include the first single, What’s That You’re Doin’, written by Garrett and Benny “Burle” Galloway, Once You’re Gone, which Garrett wrote with Jon Weisberger, and the bittersweet In A Song. Josh Shilling (Mountain Heart) helped Garrett write that one and adds harmonies.
But the very best selection here, in one critic’s very subjective view, is In The Blink of an Eye, a song that clearly comes from the Duster side of Garrett’s musical DNA. Book joins on bass and another Duster, Andy Hall (Dobro) adds some terrific, bluesy licks. This is another Garrett-Weisberger composition, and it drips with dark emotion.
It would take repeated listenings to hear all of Garrett’s fiddle tricks, but would be well worth the time. He gets more sound, nuance, and magic out of that wooden box under his chin than any other fiddle player I can think of. Have you ever listened to isolated tracks, where you only hear, say, the harmonies of the Beach Boys or the Beatles? I’d love to hear Garrett’s fiddle parts here in isolation, every single note of all 12 songs. That would be fun and enlightening. (So if anybody out there in front of the board sees this, I’m ready!)
The last thing I want to mention is Garrett’s vocals. He’s got a cool falsetto at times, which I never noted or at least never paid attention to in the past. Otherwise, his singing is comfortable and pleasant. He’s no Vince Gill (or even Shilling or the Seldom Scene’s Lou Reid, who also sings some harmony behind Garrett). But he is quite competent. And that voice, coupled with world-class fiddling and inventive songwriting makes for an awesome package. You should own this record.