Album review: "A Tribute to Yank Rachell" 

As one might expect, this tribute to country blues mandolinist Yank Rachell, released last year but never given a full review in this paper, is chock-full of mandolin, recorded in all corners of the globe (or at least as far away as Sweden). Which is a good thing: The project has enough cred and is unique enough to attract some big names like John Sebastian and Mike Seeger, but also gives a chance for masters of the mandolin to have a shot at some of Rachell's tunes.

Briefly, Rachell was first heard at the advent of electric recording in the mid '20s, playing in a jug band with Sleepy John Estes. John Sebastian, in a spoken introduction to the live track he contributes to the record, recalls his astonishment in hearing Rachell's voice on the phone when the mandolinist called him up in the mid '90s. But Rachell, who moved to Indianapolis in 1956, lived until 1997, enough time for Sebastian to record with him.

Sebastian's cover of "Tappin' That Thing" - recorded with David Grisman - is about the most fun to be had on the record. It's a double-entendre tune (the music reference being to tapping or playing a mandolin), and includes audience participation, as well as Sebastian's intro that recounts the recording process.

It's not necessarily the most moving tune, though; there are two others that really stand out. Former Rocky Ripple resident Andra Faye's performance of the lament "My Baby's Gone," recorded solo on string bass and mandolin, doesn't tug at the heartstrings unnecessarily, but it's just a flawless rendition; the music effortlessly swings, and Faye's voice is crystal clear. Sheena Rachell, Yank Rachell's granddaughter, sings "Lake Michigan Blues" slowly and mournfully, suggesting a late night at the blues club by someone who's down on her luck (and Rachell doesn't come by a weakened warble incidentally, as she's faced serious health problems recently).

The 21-track album only includes a few clunkers. Also noteworthy are the opening two tracks, "Texas Tony" and "Shotgun Blues," both about crimes of passion, and played by two masterful blues mandolinists, Tim O'Brien and Rick DelGrosso. Mike Seeger's rendition of "Deep Elam Blues" wanders a little away from the mandolin; he performs on a Vega mandurria, a mandolin-like instrument with a little more bass. And a duet between Gordon Bonham (guitar) and Jim Richter (mandolin) on "Brownsville Blues" was my favorite contribution by locals, though there are also fine performances by singer Karen Irwin, guitarist Scott Ballantine and mandolinist Mike Butler, who plays on Rachell's Harmony mandolin on a few tunes (and also executive produced the CD).

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Scott Shoger

Scott Shoger

Scott Shoger staggered up to NUVO's door one summer afternoon, a little drunk, poor and crazy-haired, muttering about future Mayor Ballard. He was taken in, hosed down, given NUVO-emblazoned clothes to wear and allowed to work in exchange for food and bylines. Refusing to leave the premises, he was hired on as... more

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