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Justin Moses: Fall Like Rain
by George Graham
(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/20/2021)
Bluegrass has been a fertile ground for musical creativity for the last several decades, going back to the 1980s emergence of the so-called New Acoustic scene. A cadre of then younger musicians, who grew up on rock and were influenced by jazz, took the string instruments of bluegrass into musical territories far beyond the traditional. The first wave of such players, including David Grisman, Sam Bush, the late Tony Rice, and soon after, Bela Fleck, helped to pioneer the sound and in the process generated a lot of creative and memorable music. In the early 2000s, another wave of innovative acoustic players came along, mostly notably Nickel Creek and their mandolinist Chris Thile. Along the way, many of these New Acoustic instrumental innovators and became Nashville staples, lending their playing to hundreds of country records over the years.
This week, we have the debut solo album by a versatile bluegrass multi-instrumentalist who has worked extensively as a sideman on the recordings and tours for Alison Krauss, Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill and Rosanne Cash among others. It’s Justin Moses, and his new recording is called Fall Like Rain.
Justin Moses came from a musical family and started on the mandolin at age 6. He was soon playing in his family’s band. Along the way, he took up guitar, Dobro, banjo and fiddle, and plays them all regularly. He has attracted perhaps the most attention for his playing on Dobro, winning the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Resophonic Guitar player of the Year awards in 2018 and 2020.
His new album features him on all five instruments at various times, as well as some vocals, and he is joined by an all-star cast of bluegrass luminaries, including fiddler Stuart Duncan, guitarist Bryon Sutton, Dobro master Jerry Douglas, guitarist Dan Tyminski, known for his work with Alison Krauss, rising star mandolinist Sierra Hull, whom Moses married in 2017, and ubiquitous bluegrass bassist Barry Bales. There is also a guest vocal appearance by the venerable Del McCoury.
The material is about equally divided between instrumentals and vocals. Moses can do a classic high-lonesome tenor, but he also brought in some guest vocalists including Tyminski, McCoury and Shawn Lane of the band Blue Highway. There is an interesting mix of material. Much of it is original, but there are a couple of cover tunes that come from unlikely sources, including the title track Fall Like Rain by Eric Clapton, and U.F.O. by Coldplay.
Opening is that Clapton cover, Fall Like Rain. Moses and company make the song sound as if it was always a bluegrass tune. Moses plays banjo and Dobro, with the cast including fiddler Stuart Duncan and guitarist Bryan Sutton. The result is first-class. <<>>
The first of the instrumentals is called Taxland and it’s basically a husband-wife mandolin feature with Moses and Sierra Hull. Both put in some impressively tasteful picking. <<>>
One of the more interesting tracks is a piece called Between the Lightning and the Thunder. Dan Tyminski is the guest vocalist in this set of rather apocalyptic lyrics. <<>>
Perhaps the most intriguing song on the album is an original called Walking to Lebanon, likely inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis in the Middle East. Justin Moses does the lead vocals himself. <<>> To give the track a bit of the atmosphere of the Middle East, the intro incorporated some appropriate instruments, including an oud and distinctive percussion. <<>>
Moses gets to spotlight his resonator guitar work on an original instrumental called Wise & Born, with Moses playing a Weissenborn resonator guitar. <<>>
Del McCoury makes his appearance on the album’s most traditional-sounding bluegrass tune, My Baby’s Gone by Dennis Lynde. It’s a nice performance all the way around. <<>>
The Coldplay cover U.F.O. is transformed into an airy, laid-back arrangement with Moses playing many of the instruments, including the strings. <<>> The track includes a very pretty instrumental coda. <<>>
The album ends with an all-out bluegrass barn-burner, an original called Locust Hill, with A-list guests including Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton and Sierra Hill. <<>>
Fall Like Rain, the new album by bluegrass multi-instrumentalist and Nashville session player Justin Moses, is an impressive recording by a versatile musician who serves up a kind of epitome of a New Acoustic style album, with virtuosic playing, an eclectic repertoire, and a bluegrass who’s who of guest players. Moses definitely demonstrates his versatility on the album, and his playing is outstanding, but he’s not much of a show-off. It’s interesting that he brings in such notable guest artists to play the same instruments that Moses himself plays.
Our grade for sound quality is an “A” with the acoustic instruments nicely captured, and Moses showing his further versatility by serving as one of the recording engineers, and as the mix engineer.
Regardless of where the commercial pop music world is headed, this continues to be a good period for bluegrass with Justin Moses’ new recording being a prime example.
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