Jason Barie, perhaps best known as fiddler for Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, is something else. Florida native, Barie is held in similar esteem by his bluegrass colleagues. Folks appearing on this album by the self-described "Ramblin' Fiddler" are a literal list of International Bluegrass Music Association nominees: Doyle Lawson, Becky Buller, Kristin Scott Benson, Corrina Rose Logston, Brandon Rickman and about a dozen others including Radio Ramblers Mullins, Mike Terry, (former RR) Duane Sparks and Randy Barnes.
To Barie's credit, each song is fully developed, its arrangement comprehensive and multi-faceted, every mandolin chop and banjo chime as integral to the album's mood and sound as the fiddlers' trills.
The album kicks off with one of seven Barie instrumentals, the lively "Waiting on Isaac" and closes with the haunting "Ashokan Farewell," the only cover instrumental included and one presumably borrowed from a Radio Ramblers' concert set. In between? Thirty-five more minutes of bluegrass perfection.
"Sassafras" is a hoppin' number, "The Rapido Kid" just plain fun, and "Two Left Shoes" is more graceful than it sounds. Barie definitely knows bluegrass fiddling, a master of his instrument, but he surprises those of us less familiar with his talents by also playing guitar on every track: how he managed the duel duty, only his producer knows. Dang, that's Barie, too.
A treble dose of fiddling perfection is featured on "Sarah Jo," with Buller and Logston joining Barie; not surprisingly, the number is energetic, but perhaps unexpectedly the tune doesn't sound crowded with three fiddlers and banjo player Scott Benson sharing the foreground; mandolinist Wayne Benson also gets in a few licks while Barnes' bass is nicely highlighted in the mix. A really good instrumental showcase, worthy of notice.
Oh, what about the singers, you ask?
Paul Williams and Del McCoury haven't been captured singing together in a studio prior to this occasion. If you haven't heard their take of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," you may want to change that right away. Williams sounds so credibly lonesome, one almost expects to hear a tear drop onto the mic. Expectedly, Mr. McCoury quite simply nails his parts.
That performance sets the bar, and if the other vocal tracks don't surpass it, that is just fine - tough to top pure perfection. Williams sings with Darrin Vincent on the gospel hymn "Beyond the Sunset For Me," another 'catching lightning' moment. Rickman doesn't get enough credit, and his lead vocal take on "Blue Eyed Darlin'" is darned special. A bit of a treat is Eli Johnston and Michael Rogers sharing the mic on the Stanley chestnut "We'll Be Sweethearts in Heaven." Just as strong is Rogers and Corey Hensley's traditional country treatment of "The Diary of My Mind." And the harmony parts? Barie.
Jason Barie delivers an entirely satisfying bluegrass album. The singing and musicianship are spot-on perfect, a blending of traditional and contemporary that is most appealing. The accompanying CD booklet is both artistically satisfying (courtesy of Barie's brother Eric) and informative, detailing the backstory and origin of our Ramblin' Fiddler.