Andy Leftwich needs no introduction for bluegrass lovers. For over fifteen years he served as a fiddler for Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder and has appeared on countless recordings with other artists as a session musician. The American Fiddler, Leftwich’s third solo project, demonstrates his ability to compose and arrange instrumentals in multiple styles of music.
The majority of the tunes on this project were written by Leftwich. The title track, The American Fiddler, is a piece in the Irish vein. It’s similar to the Celtic-oriented instrumentals that Andy recorded as a member of Kentucky Thunder. Joining him on this tune are Skaggs on mandolin, Matt Menefee on banjo, Cody Kilby and Fionan de Barra on guitar, Jeff Taylor on accordion, and Byron House on bass.
Pikes Peak Breakdown is what Andy himself describes in the liner notes as “a fast-paced barn burner bluegrass song.” Accompanied by Bryan Sutton on guitar, Scott Vestal on banjo, and Mark Schatz on bass, this track has a wonderfully loose jam band feel.
Some tunes on The American Fiddler are standard pieces arranged by Leftwich. Liberty, a piece most commonly played in bluegrass and old time music, has been around since the American Revolution. Andy’s rendition takes a nice spin as he skillfully merges the traditional arrangement alongside ideas taken from classical music. Big Mon, another bluegrass standard, is given really great treatment by Leftwich and Sierra Hull. Their mandolin solos complement each other beautifully.
Made In France is a gypsy-swing piece written by Bireli Lange. Learned from Dave Pomeroy and Rob Ickes while touring as part of Three Ring Circle, this track has an excellent rhythmic groove.
Kimper County is a piece influenced by old time fiddling in the Appalachian mountains. Jeff Taylor’s accordion does give a mild Cajun feel to this tune making for a neat stylistic blend.
Dalvay’s Reel combines both bluegrass and Irish influences. Featuring Cody Kilby, his lead flatpicking is the focal point of this particular tune, although everyone on this track makes great contributions as well.
Sally Goodin’ is a live recording from Andy’s time with Skaggs. It’s not only an example of Leftwich’s virtuosity, but also demonstrates the instrumental strengths of Skaggs and his ensemble.
The closing track, Through the East Gate, features the three finger style banjo of Scott Vestal along with the clawhammer style of Mark Schatz, creating a unique blend of the bluegrass and old time banjo approach. As an added bonus, Schatz’s dancing is also featured on this track.
The American Fiddler is a stellar release. While Andy Leftwich’s talents as an instrumentalist have always been known, this project gives us a deeper look into his ability to compose tunes in bluegrass and other encompassing styles of music.