Back Roads Mandolin
Bluegrass mandolinist Buddy Merriam has lived most of his life far from the Blue Hills of Kentucky. He grew up in the Northeast and has lived and worked on Long Island for much of that time. Starting in the early 1980s and continuing until Monroe's death in 1996, Merriam met with and studied with Monroe every time the Big Mon came through the area. Merriam learned both the familiar tunes and the rare songs straight from the master himself. He acknowledged that, "I was pretty much a Monroe guy from the beginning." And that clearly shows with every pick of his mandolin and in every song he writes and plays."Back Roads Mandolin" is a collection of Merriam's original instrumental songs performed with the standard Bluegrass ensemble: Buddy Merriam on mandolin, Ernie Sykes on upright bass, Jerry Oland on 5-string banjo, Bob Harris on guitar, and Gary Oleyar on fiddle. Also included are Jeff Schmich on harmony mandolin and Mike Sassano, who fills in with the other members of the mandolin family: mandolin, mandola, and mandocello. While for the most part, "Back Roads Mandolin" is a bluegrass record, Merriam does include a few other genres. "Gypsy Tears of Joy" is a gypsy jazz number and "Baldassari" is more of a contemporary acoustic tune. Other tracks, like "Circle of Chiefs," sounds almost like a close cousin to the Monroe tune, "Cheyenne." When Merriam and his crew are playing in hard-core Monroe mode, it's almost like listening to Bill himself. As a matter of fact, the closest recording I can think of to "Back Roads Mandolin" is the 1976 recording, "Kenny Baker Plays Monroe," where Monroe played back-up mandolin to his longtime fiddler Kenny Baker. This CD captures that level of performance. Everyone's playing, especially Merriam on mandolin, is accomplished and confident, but more importantly, their energy and passion shines through in every track. These are musicians doing what they love, and it shows in every note. For people who love traditional bluegrass music, this is the real deal. Highly recommended. ~Hermon Joyner, Audiophile Audition.