It’s a great time to be a bluegrass fan right now, and if you follow Jason Barie, you know exactly what I mean. Barie takes on the role of The Ramblin’ Fiddler in his new album Pieces, in which he’s joined by such big names as Del McCoury and Paul Williams (who stop by for a rendition of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” that will leave any grass fan weak at the knees), and he lives up to the moniker quite exceptionally. From the tracklist’s jumping-off point in “Waiting on Isaac,” through the misty melodies of “Sarah Jo,” “Two Left Shoes” and “Beyond the Sunset for Me,” and finally finishing up in “The Rapido Kid” and “Ashokan Farewell (Live from the Cedarville Opry House), there’s rarely a moment where our leading man sounds even remotely off his game. There have been no shortage of good bluegrass tunes hitting the airwaves in 2019, but if you’re looking for something specifically traditional and full of the same elegance the genre has always been known for, Pieces is a hard LP to beat.
Whether it’s a groove in “We’ll Be Sweethearts in Heaven” or a contemplative melody in “Diary of My Mind,” Pieces is loaded down with a lot of unfanciful emotionality that I haven’t heard in a lot of mainstream records this year (let alone many in country, bluegrass, folk and other Americana-based genres). Barie’s fiddle relates to the listener through a painfully raw interaction with his bow, and by the time that we reach the conclusion of the album in “Ashokan Farewell,” it feels a bit like we’ve just sat through a celebration of life, death, and moreover, the mortality of a cultural harmony. There’s nothing deliberately old fashioned about the construction of the arrangements here, and I include “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” when saying this, but at the same time, it’s difficult to peg anything in Pieces as being totally progressive or contemporary in nature. Songs like “Sassafras” and “Blue Eyed Darlin’” appeal to the classical American songbook in ways that just can’t be found among a more popular and streamlined 21st century recording model, and while some critics might look at this as an aesthetical drawback, I for one think that it’s what makes the new Jason Barie LP so unabashedly intriguing.
Simply put, bluegrass is still going strong into the 2020’s thanks to artists like Barie, who plays the part of The Ramblin’ Fiddler brilliantly in Pieces (with the assistance of a few equally-talented friends, I should add). If you’re interested in getting acquainted with the genre, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend checking out this record before a handful of the style’s most revered releases, but for the seasoned listener, this hits all the right notes in a season that has seen far more duds than studs. I’d like to see just how far Barie can go with this sound in 2020, but even if he sticks with the tried and true formula he’s utilizing here, you can believe I’ll be listening to his output in either case.
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