Young mandolinist Joe Walsh has found himself mentioned several times of late on Bluegrass Today.
We posted a report in May 2006 when Joe was still a student at the Berklee College Of Music, and performed with other Berklee bluegrassers at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. When he joined up as a member of The Gibson Brothers this past November, we covered that as well.
In the meantime, Walsh has released his debut solo CD, Saturday Night Waltz, which showcases his mandolin playing and his skills as a composer and arranger. Joe has been a prominent picker in the Boston area, and throughout New England since he moved there from Minnesota to study, and it is from this pool of musicians that he draws his accompanists.
Not all of the names will be immediately familiar, but these are very talented young musicians who stand leave a mark on bluegrass and progressive string music before they are finished with them.
Joe shared some thoughts with us recently about Saturday Night Waltz, the songs and tunes included, and the people who performed on it with him.
“When I set out to make the record, I of course wanted to try and find material that wasn’t all worn out and overly familiar. Obviously original tunes take care of that, and I tried to tried to write as many tunes as possible prior to starting that project. A lot of them just didn’t seem to fit the scope of the project when it came together: as a whole it’s not a strictly bluegrass’ record, but it didn’t seem right to be tossing in tunes that at weren’t at least peripherally related to bluegrass.
Filling in the gaps with some of the other tunes was one of the funnest things about the whole project. Boston (and New England in general) is home to an amazing collection of acoustic musicians and singers, and in choosing tunes and songs like The Good Part, I’ll Go On Downtown, and Fall and I’m Not Falling, I got to share what I liked most about some of my friends writing, playing and singing. These were the folks that I worked with on any number of gigs, and these tunes were the ones I’d always try to get on the set list. It’s a pleasure getting to share them.
Just as with choosing the songs, I got to choose from amongst my favorite musicians in the Northeast to pick with me. It seems like Boston is a continually changing and continually amazing music scene, and this is a like a snapshot of who was singing and playing at the time I recorded it. (I started tracking two years ago, but it took a while to get it released) Some of the folks from the record have moved elsewhere, and a number of phenomenal musicians have since moved to Boston, but the collection of folks on this record was and is, for me, the cream of the crop.
Wes Corbett is playing the banjo, and quite capably. He worked with the Biscuit Burners for a year, and splits his time between Joy Kills Sorrow and a band called the Bee Eaters, who just recorded an insturmental record that I think of as our generations’ Strength in Numbers.
The guitar playing is covered by Lincoln Meyers, Matt Arcara, and Flynn Cohen. These three are amongst the finest guitarists you’ll hear in the Northeast. They’ve all got different takes on acoustic guitar playing, but are each hugely creative and inspired players. The guitar well is deep up here.
As is the fiddle well: Mike Barnett covers most of the fiddling on the record, with a couple of cameos by Tristan and Tashina Clarride. These three are on the short list of my favorite living fiddlers, and it’s amazing to get to play and record with them. Mike is a prodigious bluegrass monster, having logged tours with Tony Trischka and Jesse McReynolds while not yet twenty, and the Clarridges have both won national fiddle contests, including Weiser, and are both in the Bee Eaters with Wes.
Bass duties are split were split between Ashleigh Caudill and Karl Doty. I expect we’ll hear a lot more from both of them. I felt lucky to get to record a tune with cellist Natalie Haas, who plays with scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser and who brings a deep rhythmic palette to any musical situation.
Though he’s only on two tracks, Roger Williams adds a lot with his exceptionally tasteful dobro playing. He’s a force, and New England is better for his presence.”
I also asked Joe to give his impression of his time studying at Berklee…
“Berklee was great for me. Though there weren’t a huge amount of bluegrassers at the school while I was there, just being surrounded by people who took the craft of music so seriously was hugely inspiring. At Berklee there’s always someone who can play circles around you, no matter how good you are, and that just made me want to work harder. Now there’s a quite a few really talented bluegrass players at the school. To me it just seems to be getting better and better. I really enjoyed the presence of so many other styles, too. I think it made me step back and examine what’s unique about bluegrass, and it also was a great way to find other things for inspiration.
The New England scene is great… really great! And it just keeps getting better. The level of playing is high, and there are a lot of players around. I really appreciate the degree of risk-taking and creativity amongst acoustic musicians up here, too. People are willing to try out new combinations and try to invent new genres (like banjo rap), and that energy is a wonderful thing to be around.”