David Benedict – Into the True Country – Rich, endearing mandolin bluegrass album

There are probably really technical terms to define the kind of music that David Benedict makes, but to the lay music fan (and even some of us critical types), I can think of a few good words – relaxing, endearing, and rich. By these words, I mean that Benedict does something remarkable. He harkens back to music past, while simultaneously giving it a present-day relevance and vibrancy. The picking style on his signature mandolin is consistent and wonderful. His songwriting hits the spot and the tracks come together in a delightful bluegrass album.

The opener “Naptime” is not, in fact, a lullaby. It is quite relaxing. Although upbeat, with meandering strings and a toe-tapping beat, it does sort of “lull” the listener. It makes one wonder if the title was inspired by a child’s naptime… as in the parent hoped the child might sleep. Or, perhaps, it’s the kind of adventurous bluegrass track that someone might have as the background to a dream.

The second track “The Boat Tune” reminds me of what I loved most about Chris Thile in Nickel Creek. It wasn’t his radical, aggressive tracks that I loved. It was always the sweet songs that somehow always had that unique melody line that one didn’t expect in a bluegrass tune. Benedict perfects that sound here. Borrowing melody patterns from something closer to progressive jazz than bluegrass, the song’s instrumentation and style ultimately bespeak of stringed sophistication. The title, too, is not lost on the song. It has a methodical, rhythmic characteristic evidently akin to a boat rocking in the ocean, or (as I thought) creeping down one of America’s great rivers.

There’s a refreshing depth to “April Evening” brought on by the upright bass backing with the banjo and mandolin switching off the lead. The pacing is gentle, but has a sort of momentum to it. “Ross’s Landing” shifts the gears a bit, with more of a jazz-infused sound to it. The mandolin brings some attitude and the fiddle strings give it a “dark” tone. Although I don’t know where Ross’s Landing is, one gets the connotation from the song that it’s place where people are up to no good.

“The Girl Who Played the Flute” has a Celtic repetition to it. It’s wonderful. The fiddle-mandolin interplay really make the track. The far more aggressive “Rendezvous” has some of the best picking on it, which is saying something on an incredible album full of great string work. “Rendezvous” does not fit as much in the “traditional” category, but goes to show that new, experimental bluegrass does not have to be outrageous. It’s still a nice, relaxing song but shows a great deal of unique melodic turns that pull it far away from traditional bluegrass music.

“The Crooked Waltz” is one of the highlight tracks on the album. There’s something about classic instrumentation on a waltz that just makes my heart happy in a deep place. This particular one starts off simple and sweet, just the way I like this style of music. Softly, subtlely the guitar work on this track escorts listeners ears from the mandolin to the violin. Written as much like a jazz tune as classic bluegrass, it features different instrument solos more than a core repetitive tune.

“Rockfall Ridge” and “The Paperclip Reel” are both upbeat tracks. The latter is a delightful song that reminds me of both ancient Celtic music as well as much more recent early 20th century American music. Some of the melodic turns are true to Benedict’s style of unpredictability (while still being pleasing to the ear). Like several of the songs on the album it highlights violin work as much as the featured mandolin. In any event, it’s a good song.

The album concludes with the title track “Into the True Country,” a song more in the tradition of bluegrass music than some of the others on the album. It has a chromatic quality to the melody runs and again plays set up for the violin to shine (which it does). The sound is endearing, even happy, and positive. It’s the kind of song that just might get folks onto the dancefloor for some doe-si-doing.

All told, the album is a great success. It may not have the popular appeal of Nickel Creek or the legion of long-time fans like something from Doc Watson, but it nevertheless reveals an emerging star in the bluegrass genre. David Benedict is extremely talented, not just in the literal skills of playing the mandolin, but it putting together compositions that have the ability to conjure nostalgia while also feeling fresh and exciting. Benedict is quite literally keeping a tradition alive. Please support his work and share it widely. This is an art that deserves to be cultivated for many, many more generations.

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