may 2008

The Mashville Brigade
Rural Rhythm

The title may seem comical, or at the least ironic, but in the bluegrass world certain songs do indeed qualify as “smash hits.” Those would be far more in number than the 16 generous tracks here (which encompass a sweep of history dating from the mid-19th Century up to the present day), but they certainly would include de rigeur warhorses such as the furious fiddle workout that is the traditional “Sally Goodin’” and the Stanley Brothers’ keening rouser, “Little Maggie,” a showcase for spitfire banjo and breakneck fiddle soloing. The Mashville Brigade quintet makes its album debut in exemplary fashion here, showing an ease and fluidity in its playing befitting its members’ pedigrees. No Johnny Come Latelys these fellows; all five have sterling resumes. Aaron McDarris (banjo, harmony vocals) is a Grascal; Darrell Webb (guitar, vocals) has been subject to Rage in Rhonda Vincent’s band; Jim Van Cleve (fiddle) is a Mountain Heart mover and shaker; Randy Barnes (bass) maintains the pulse for NewFound Road; and Ashby Frank (mandolin, vocals) labors mightily in Special Consensus. Their unassuming Mashville Brigade ensemble gets together at Nashville’s bluegrass heaven, The Station Inn, whenever schedules allow; and true to the Station Inn performances, the band cut this album live in the studio, with no overdubs or sweetening, exactly as it might be heard by the enthusiastic patrons at the Inn. The emphasis is on upbeat tunes, which results in a wealth of spectacular instrumental sorties—on Bill Monroe’s “Lonesome Road Blues” the speed-picked and –bowed dialogues between Frank’s mandolin and Van Cleve’s fiddle threaten to go careering off into the ether—but there are also moments of reflective, soulful introspection, notably in the tenderly harmonized rendition of a Carter Family classic, “Bury Me Beneath The Willow,” to which Frank adds tasty, succinct mandolin shadings; and on an appropriately bouncy traditional instrumental, “Going Across the Sea,” an occasion for laid-back ensemble and solo theme and development passages evoking gently rolling ocean waves. The title of this debut would seem to promise more Mashville Brigade communiqués ahead. Write soon, so to speak.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024