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Bluegrass Ablaze

29 MAR 11 JOHN C. BRUENING

In the span of just a few years, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper have -- as individuals and as a group -- piled up more than a dozen awards from various bluegrass associations and organizations for their mastery of vintage material as well as their intricate and tightly delivered original compositions. Fired Up, their new release on Rounder, is appropriately titled, considering their incendiary delivery on many of the uptempo pieces in the 14-track set.

Led by fiddler and co-producer Michael Cleveland, the lineup includes a foursome of down-home virtuosi: mandolinist Jesse Brock, guitarist Tom Adams, bassist Marshall Wilborn and banjoist Charlie Cushman (everyone takes a turn at the vocals, by the way).

The tone of the album varies -- from "Monster Truck," a light-hearted offering written by Adams (who penned five tracks in all), to the more lyrical "Bigger Hands Than Mine," a piece written by Wilborn with beautiful guest vocals by high-profile country singer-songwriter Vince Gill. On the more traditional side is the upbeat "Going Back To Old Virginia," in which Cushman and Brock chug along relentlessly within the established groove.

"Michael himself is the surge of nitro in the pistons of this particular hot rod, one of the greatest improvising violin players in any style," according to the liner notes by Matt Glaser, Artistic Director for the American Roots Music Program at Berklee College of Music. "Each solo is on fire, and just jaw-droppingly creative. The musicians in Flamekeeper are all spectacular, and this coalition of amazing individuals truly achieves liftoff, a kind of transcendence."

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    Monster Truck

    Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, from Fire ...



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