Mandolin player Mike Compton and guitarist David Grier team up on Climbing the Walls to create a music rich in tradition. The first thing the listener will notice is that this is an ensemble effort, augmented by a number of excellent musicians, including fiddler Blaine Sprouse. This all-instrumental album covers many familiar, traditional tunes, like "Black Mountain Rag" and Bill Monroe's "Going up Caney." The group performs a lively version of "Honky Tonk Swing" with imaginative solos from all involved, including bass player Roy Huskey. Much of this material is upbeat and played at a quick tempo. Several pieces stray from tradition but add a pleasing diversity to the album. "Bye Bye Blue" offers perhaps the most unusual arrangement, creating a swing jazz feel by adding Paul Martin Zonn on clarinet. Grier plays several fascinating solos on this instrumental, adding blues phrasings to his usual quick flat-picking. Two other standouts include "Waters Street Waltz" and "Paul's Blues," two measured instrumentals. The first is a relaxed waltz, with a gently rolling guitar solo and extended fiddle break. The later piece features Compton and is tinged with an Eastern European air. Both "Black Mountain Rag" and "the New Five Cents" showcase Compton and Grier without accompaniment, offering a good contrast to the more fully arranged pieces. Climbing the Walls will provide a real treat for fans of both artists as well as lovers of traditional, instrumental music.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.