Jim VanCleve

No Apologies

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For his first solo album, fiddler Jim Van Cleve called on the talents of his bandmates in Mountain Heart along with an impressive array of high-powered helpers (including guitarist Bryan Sutton, banjo picker Ron Stewart, and singers Sonya Isaacs and Ronnie Bowman) to realize a pleasingly personal vision of modern bluegrass music. Some of his moves are predictable: there are jazzy, new acoustic-style instrumentals like "Grey Afternoon" and "Fall Creek Falls," most of which are nice enough but have a tendency to sacrifice vitality in the interest of fancy chord changes, and there's also the requisite number of old-school barnburners like "Train 45" and Bill Monroe's rollicking "Wheel Hoss." In between, though, there are some surprises: "Nature of the Beast" is jazzy in a more original way and employs subtle touches of dubwise production, while "Scars" is a flat-out pop song, a quiet and regretful number featuring stellar vocals by Sonya Isaacs. What's interesting is that the album's two most effective tracks are also among the most mainstream: a gorgeous, chugging version of Flatt & Scruggs' "We Can't Be Darlings Anymore," and a swaggering country original titled "Way It Always Seems to Go." Very nice.

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