MANDOLINQUENCY: THE ROCK & ROLL MANDOLIN BLOG
Post #2 | BY BRAD TOLINSKI | June 8, 2017
I’m somebody who believes that listening is almost as important as practicing and playing, so I’m always happy when friends and fellow musicians turn me on to something new and interesting. Since we’re just getting to know each other, I thought it would be fun to share just a few of the mandolin-centric albums that have made big impressions on me over the years.
Many of you might already be familiar with some of this music, but hopefully not all of it. I purposely chose a very wide variety of sounds in the hopes you’ll find something new that will inspire you, tickle your ear or provide you with new riff or two to steal!
Stephane Grappelli & David Grisman
Stephane Grappelli/David Grisman Live (Warner Bros., 1981)
I’m a sucker for swing, and this is one of the swinging-est albums ever. Mandolinist David Grisman has recorded many duet albums with other legendary players including Doc Watson and Jerry Garcia, so it’s hard to settle on one. For example, I was tempted to choose “Hold On, We’re Strummin’, his album with Sam Bush, just for the name alone (a play on the r&b hit “Hold On, I’m Comin’ by a different Sam & Dave). But this album, featuring the late jazz violin genius Stephane Grappelli, is my favorite.
Mandolin Ecstasy (Oriental Records, 1986)
Beatle George Harrison’s son, Dhani, once said Mandolin Ecstasy, an album recorded by a 13-year-old child prodigy named U. Srinivas, was his dad’s favorite piece of Indian music. It’s easy to see why. Srinivas use of the electric five-string mandolin is like nothing else you’ve ever heard. He would go on to record over 100 otherworldly albums and most are astonishing. A non-smoker and vegetarian all his life, he tragically died at age 45 due to liver failure in 2014. Check out the following video for just a small sliver of this astounding talent.
Music of Bill Monroe from 1936-1994 (MCA Nashville, 1994)
How many musicians in the history of the world can claim to have created a new gene of music? Mandolinist William Smith Monroe is commonly referred to as the “Father of Bluegrass,” because dag nab it, he was. Anybody playing country is in some way indebted to Bill, and the rollicking, intense music on these discs proves it. Or, as I like to tell my rock and roll buddies, “Metallica my ass! Bill Monroe—now there’s a man that can ride the lightning!”
False Dawn (Rounder Records, 1983)
Mark O’Connor is known as one of the very best fiddle players and flat-pickers in the world, but the man can also play the mandolin like the devil himself. There isn’t as much recorded evidence of it as I’d like, but False Dawn is wild and psychedelic display of all his extraordinary abilities.
Bach (Deutsche Grammophon, 2012)
Over the last decade several well-established mandolinists have experimented with playing classical music, but Israeli virtuoso Avi Avital took the concept and ran with it all the way to Carnegie Hall. Signed to Deutsche Grammophon, the Grammy-winning musician has recorded a series of groundbreaking albums performing renditions of well-known Baroque music on the mandolin, much of which was originally written for other instruments. My favorite is his collection of interpretations of J.S. Bach, but equally impressive are his recordings of Vivaldi and Bartok.
Jethro Burns & Tiny Moore
Back to Back (Acoustic Disc, 1979)
When Jethro Burns and Tiny Moore recorded this album together they had been superstars for many years. Moore, who played a unique five-string electric mandolin, was a regular in Bob Wills Texas Playboys. Burns was half of Homer & Jethro, the beloved duo who had a nationwide crossover pop hit in 1959 with “The Battle of New Orleans.” In the late Seventies, David Grisman had the brilliant idea of pairing them up and the result was this landmark album of jazz standards and originals. There are more great licks on this album than a Tootsie Pop.
Mike Marshall & Choro Famoso
Mike Marshall & Choro Famoso (Adventure, 2004)
In a bad mood? I dare you not to smile while listening to this happy and seductive collection of the tunes. Mike Marshall is an indisputably fabulous bluegrass mandolinist, but like many other modern players he’s not afraid to flirt with other genres. His most intriguing left turn, for my money, is this charming album of Brazilian music performed with the band, Choro Famoso.
Jim & Jesse McReynolds
Berry Pickin’ in the Country (Epic, 1965)
Long before iconoclasts like Marshall or O’Connor came along, Jim & Jesse McReynolds were shaking up the bluegrass world by incorporating a little rock and roll anarchy into their traditional country stew. This early Sixties album of Chuck Berry covers is awesome and a whole lotta fun. The extra bonus is that you can hear Brother Jesse go to town on his unique, self-invented “cross-picking” playing method, that has since become an essential bluegrass mandolin technique.