Matt Flinner,
(Compass, 2001)

Matt Flinner may not be a household name yet, but among lovers of bluegrass and new acoustic music, he is hardly an unknown. He started young as a prodigy, was part of the group Sugarbeat (along with Ben Demerath, Tony Furtado and Sally Truitt) and now is following his muse via a solo career and membership in the trio Phillips, Grier & Flinner.

Flinner wrote all of the pieces on Latitude. They blend bluegrass, folk, pop and jazz in a way that will be familiar to any aficionado of new acoustic music. Many of these tunes also have a Celtic tinge, not strong enough to put this album in that genre, but strong enough to show the attentive listener that Flinner has been influenced by Celtic music. This helps his music stand out from the pack, although it must be said that the new acoustic pack is pretty good company.

Flinner's guests are some of the best musicians in new acoustic music: Darol Anger and Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Jerry Douglas on dobro, David Grier on guitar and Todd Phillips on bass. Flinner and company are obviously comfortable playing together. Although Flinner is the "leader" on this album, the other musicians are hardly cameos added for a bit of window-dressing. The ensemble spirit is one of the things that could file Latitude under jazz as easily as bluegrass.

Flinner's mandolin playing is melodic and fluid, but not overly flashy. Many of the pieces on Latitude invite one to hum along, or get stuck in one's memory. The ironically titled "A New Leaf" has an old-timey feel that's enhanced by Duncan's fiddle work. Flinner and Grier have a playful musical contest on "Rock Paper Scissors" as they swap leads and mess with the tempo. The title track gallops cheerfully along, while "Rayburn Avenue" has a bit of a blues sound. The album concludes with the pensive "33."

Latitude is a fine album that belongs in any collection of new acoustic music. Perhaps the best thing about it, however, is the assurance that Matt Flinner's future looks bright. With work like this to build on, the sky is the limit and there is surely more excellent music in the offing.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 17 May 2003

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