Tony Williamson - Sessions at McBane Mill
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Sessions at McBane Mill (Bonfire, 2003)

Tony Williamson

Reviewed by Brad San Martin

If you only know the work of Tony Williamson through his wonderful 1999 Doobie Shea album of traditional gospel duets, this disk might come as a bit of a surprise - and quite a pleasant one. While the ragged, Monroe-ish edge of Williamson's playing remains, here he tackles an eclectic program that mixes fiddle tunes, jazz standards, a calypso or two, and original compositions. Unlike many such exercises, which are overwhelmed by technical noodling, Williamson's funky, old-school mandolin playing and the good taste of an able supporting cast keep things soulful and close to the ground.

With a rich acoustic sound (the album was recorded in a 19th century wooden grain mill), the band tackles quirkier fiddle tunes ("Crazy Creek"), blues from Charlie Parker and John Coltrane ("Now's the Time" and "Mr. PC"), and a series of elegant originals from Williamson and the band members. Guitarist Jeff Autry, best known from the John Cowan Band, is a great foil for Williamson, alternately fleet and searching. Bassist Robbie Link (nice to hear a bluegrass bassist use the bow so cleanly and tastefully!) and multi-instrumentalist Rex McGhee (banjo, fiddle) round out the ensemble for a program which beautifully balances traditional immediacy with the wide-open vistas of newgrass. This is one to treasure.

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