As rich in texture as the land that inspired it is, Jason Barie’s firebomb of an opening track in “Waiting on Isaac” is the perfect way to get his new record Pieces started, as it encapsulates the spirit of a bluegrass superhero in The Ramblin’ Fiddler (portrayed here by Barie) that the genre has been in need of for quite some time now. As The Ramblin’ Fiddler, Barie burns off some truly brilliant play in this song, “Ashokan Farewell” (recorded live from the Cedarville Opry House), “Two Left Shoes” and “Sassafras,” but to be perfectly honest, his sterling performance on the strings is only one of the reasons why I would tell bluegrass aficionados to take a peek at this new record’s thirteen tracks.
There’s a lot of color to the instrumental backbone of “Blue Eyed Darlin’,” “Diary of My Mind” and “We’ll Be Sweethearts in Heaven” that I just haven’t heard very much of in the bluegrass underground this past year, and in comparison to the output of mainstream country artists currently topping the charts, there’s an ocean’s worth of definition to be explored in this LP. The strings indeed lend agency to the character of every song here, but in both lyrical tunes like “Beyond the Sunset for Me” and wholly instrumental numbers like “Oak Grove Shuffle,” there’s a sense of complexity to the construction of the music that never allows for us to focus on one component over another for very long at all (quite the opposite, truth be told).
The production style of Pieces is raw and unrefined, which certainly allows for maximum exposure of each individual player’s skillset, and alongside Del McCoury and Paul Williams in “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” we get to see this multifaceted dynamic in action better than we do anywhere else on the album. Barie’s chemistry with these two is off the charts good, and I believe that it is only through this calculated mixing scheme that we’re able to really appreciate and understand just how much substance there is to their collective play. This is a group of musicians who have a lot to share with the world on their own, but when they get together under the direction of The Ramblin’ Fiddler in this record, they put a really fresh spin on some undisputed staples in the bluegrass genre.
If you love bluegrass and its culture as much as I do, Jason Barie’s Pieces is an awesome way to round out your year on a high note. From start to finish, whether it be the sweet “Adalynn’s Lullaby” or the kaleidoscopic “The Rapido Kid,” Barie doesn’t stop the sizzle on his fiddle for anything, and in the process of crafting the thirteen songs presented to us here, he renews a commitment to his craft that is anything but commonplace in American music nowadays. His dedication is quite inspiring, particularly for those of us with a deep kinship to this music, and something tells me it’s going to lead to even more success on his end once the 2010s finally shift into the 2020s.