The Roland White Band,
Jelly on My Tofu
(Copper Creek, 2002)

It's great to have Roland White back again. White, one of the mainstays of the Nashville Bluegrass Band, is in fine pickin' company here with banjoist Richard Bailey, guitarist Diane Bouska and bassist Todd Cook. As the title suggests, the mix of tunes and songs is quirky, unconventional and a great deal of fun for those acoustic music fans whose horizons are wider than just "the way Earl done played it back in '48."

The title instrumental gets us off to a suitably unconventional start, with some complex harmonies and intricate playing, and a fine fiddle solo by guest Stuart Duncan, who appears on seven of the 13 tracks here. "Sunday Sunrise" is a nifty little song boasting White's distinctive lead vocal and tight harmonies that add up to laid-back, west coast, hippie-style bluegrass. We get closer to tradition with a sweet version of "Hoping That You're Hoping," an old Louvin Brothers song, and Bailey's original "Bermuda Drive," a banjo showcase also highlighted by a mellow mandolin solo. The old-fashioned ballad, "Someone You Have Forgotten," really shows off White's classic and heartfelt lead vocals. His is one of the truly distinctive lead voices in bluegrass, and it's also strong on "Cabin on the Hill," which sounds like it could have been recorded on a Kentucky hills back porch circa 1955.

White's subtle and understated mandolin work starts off the lovely "Rose City Waltz," making way for Duncan's equally tasteful fiddle work. Shel Silverstein's "February Snow" is a little diamond of a song, with the lyrics, "Your memory of me is going to last as long/As the early meltin' February snow." The classic "Satisfied Mind" is sung purely solo by White, and very well indeed.

A lot of the best improvisation in jazz is due to knowing what notes to leave out, and White subscribes to that point of view in "Roland's Rag." There's not a note too many here, and as a result the level of musicality is high indeed, variation after variation. Bouska gets the lead vocal on a rocking "Flesh, Blood and Bone," followed by "Old Fashioned Love," a lightly swinging song with some mellow plinky-plunky instrumental work. We go out with the Bill Monroe mandolin sizzler, "Rawhide," which gets a pretty relaxed, almost sedate, outing here, with White and company making it all look easy.

And this is a making-it-look-easy album, which shows what fine musicians are assembled here. The truly easy thing is to work up a sweat playing fast and mindlessly, but the high-caliber musicians here never resort to such histrionics. They just smile and play the music, and we smile too, happy to be in the aural company of such masterfully confident and superior pickers.

[ by Chet Williamson ]
Rambles: 18 August 2002