Thomas Cassell possesses a formidable resume. A founding member of the East Tennessee progressive bluegrass band, Circus No. 9, he was accorded the 2020 IBMA Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year award, 2021 National Mandolin honors and, in 2016, the RockyGrass Mandolin championship. That doesn’t even include a list of credentials that include sideman status alongside Billy Strings, the Bryan Sutton Band, Jim Lauderdale, Missy Raines, and Becky Buller, among many others.
Consequently, Cassell’s new Mountain Fever album, What You Need to Prove, lives up to its title. Each of its eight songs resonate with an upturned attitude and a sunny disposition that open the door to nothing less than absolute optimism. That’s evident from the outset, beginning, appropriately enough, with the album opener, The First Move, one of two co-writes with Tim Stafford. The song sets the tone for all that follows, a calming caress that extends to such selections as the Mark Knopfler-penned ballad, Redbud Tree, Traveling Shoes, a collaboration with Becky Buller, the effortlessly upbeat, Another You, and the easily assured, Sufficient for the Day, the second of the songs Cassell penned with Stafford.
Although Cassell deserves the lion’s share of the credit here, his backing band deserves kudos as well. Stafford handles the guitar parts, while fiddler Julian Pinelli, dobro player Jacob Metz, bassist Vince Hagan, Ned Luberecki on banjo, and John Gardner on drums fill out the arrangements and give the album its supple shadings. Of course, the songwriting is first rate as well, all of which culminates with the closing track, New November, a co-composition from Steep Canyon Ranger’s Graham Sharp. It’s clearly a credit to Cassell’s credence that he managed to find such luminaries eager to contribute to his efforts.
Whether or not What You Need To Prove will be the vehicle that encourages Cassell to take a permanent break from his day job remains to be seen. However for the time being at least, it proves he has the talent needed to succeed if that’s what he decides to try.