Carolina Chimes: Rudi Ekstein’s All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase review

RudiRudi Ekstein Carolina Chimes Rudi Ekstein’s All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase
FoxFire Recordings

One of the strongest bluegrass sets of the year comes from a name most bluegrass aficionados, me wee self included, are unfamiliar with prior to its release.

Rudi Ekstein is an absolutely beautiful mandolin player, and while his name may not roll off the tongue like his more prominent eight-string colleagues, his latest collection deserves significant attention.

Upon first listen, I was really quite taken aback: Who is this guy I’ve never heard of playing with such notable bluegrassers including Stuart Duncan (fiddle, natch), Jeff Autry (guitar), Mark Schatz (bass), and Patrick Sauber (banjo on four tracks, Seth Rhinehart on another pair)?

A couple days later, listening to the area alternative radio network, CKUA, I started to hear songs from the album outside the weekly bluegrass showcase: that was even more surprising, but so well-deserved. Rudi Ekstein’s All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase is 34-minutes of original tunes sounding fresh, invigorated, and powerful, accessible to even the most sceptical of ears.

I’ll leave others better suited to tell the Rudi Ekstein story; I’ll simply concentrate on my impressions of this dynamic album of modern bluegrass well-rooted in traditions perfected over the course of seventy years.

“Cornerstone” is no doubt a fair number with which to kick-off the album as it oozes with the moody sensibility for which bluegrass’s father was perhaps most appreciated. Elsewhere, as on “Dixie Sunset,” mandolin trills reveal wisps of the ancient tones so often referenced by Mr. Monroe. “Back Drag” captures more up-tempo spirits of similar heritage and “Rockalachia” is a jaunty tune containing a playful Monroe bounce.

“Spikebuck,” a spicy instrumental, could be culled from the latest album from any number of name bands, but most strongly brings to mind Mark Stoffel’s playing with Chris Jones & the Night Drivers. “Jessy’s Fancy” contains welcome echoes of country music’s past, perhaps of “Just Someone I Used to Know.” A breakdown, “Bacon In the Pan,” is another highlight.

These twelve original numbers flow brilliantly, a set of mandolin-based bluegrass the likes we haven’t experienced in a number of years. I’ve hit ‘repeat’ more than once listening to the set, the minutes passing by much too quickly.

An absolute stunner of a bluegrass album.


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