On The Edge
by David Royko
Conor Mulroy states that “Salinger” is “…through composed. It consists of a thirty-minute piece broken up into three movements for mandolin, fiddle, guitar, and bass, a twenty-minute piece broken up into two sections for nylon-string guitar, steel-string guitar, fiddle, and bass, and a short piece for solo piano.” An obvious point of comparison is Chris Thile’s recent album, “Punch,” with his Punch Brothers--also “through composed” (in other words, somewhat classical in regards to form), using bluegrass instrumentation. There must be something in the air.
Two big differences are that “Punch” has vocals and banjo, while “Salinger” uses neither. The differences extend beyond instrumentation to style, as well. “Salinger” never dips far into dissonance, with contrasts subtle and gradual as opposed to jarring or abrupt. Overall, on the surface, “Salinger” is less demanding and somewhat more inviting, at least at first, than “Punch.” It’s relative calmness and easy contrasts, however, place demands of a different sort on the listener in that it too easily drifts into the background on initial listens if concentration flags, though repetition reveals plenty of musical substance—this is not Windham Hill-style, New Age noodling.
The playing is spotless; lead by Mulroy on mandolin, nylon-string guitar, and piano, guitarist John McGann (so impressive as one of the Wayfaring Strangers), Crooked Still’s double bassist Corey DiMario, and Grand National Fiddle Champion Tristan Clarridge. They play well as an ensemble, and ensemble is what this is all about. There’s little in the way of solos or improvising here, the unaccompanied elements more like thoughtful cadenzas in nature rather than lengthy flights of fancy. (Conor Mulroy, P.O. Box 7485, Jackson, WY 83002, www.conormulroy.com.) DR