Singer-songwriter Ty Gilpin (High Windy) is a bluegrass musician at first glance. He plays mandolin; his band describes itself as “a look at the future of Bluegrass music.” But Gilpin’s solo project, the recently-released Crooked Hollows, is more of an exploration of Americana and roots music from as many perspectives as could possibly be managed in a mere eight tracks.
This spirit of adventure is felt most in “Queen of the Crows,” which comprises both the album’s lead and end tracks. The two versions are worlds apart. The first is a moody, lyrical tapestry of sound and imagery. It sweeps through mists and fallow fields, Gilpin’s mandolin and the banjo (Steve Sutton of Whitewater Bluegrass Company) adding as much character as Gilpin’s warm baritone and the gorgeous harmony offered up by Jen Duke.
The final track is a remix of that song, crafted by local electronic composer Danny Peck (aka dep). Here, the mandolin still stars, but organic percussion also surfaces like a cold rain, a hard frost, a flurry of bird wings taking flight. Gilpin will recreate the remix, live, with Peck doing an AHA AVL show at Moog Music on Wednesday, Dec. 19.
Crooked is Gilpin’s solo project, but it’s hardly a solo effort. The mandolin player tapped “the best of the Asheville roots music scene” (as he puts it, on a handbill that accompanies the CD). On the country waltz, “Smiling For The Camera,” Darren Nicholson (Balsam Range) plays guitar, Sav Sankaran (The Dixie Bee-liners) plays bass (those two also sing baritone and tenor harmony vocals, respectively), Matt Smith (Pierce Edens) is on pedal steel and Tim Gardner (High Windy) plays fiddle.
“Old Rotten Ribbons” is a wistfully swaying tune, and a perfect backdrop for a poignant duet between Lance Mills (Lance Mills and the Cavemen) and Amanda Platt (The Honeycutters). Session drummer (at Horizon Records and Sunlight Records) Tony Creasman’s tight, almost jazzy percussion brings a lightness to the song — a perfect balance to Smith’s mournful steel guitar part.
Where “Light Just One Candle” (with lead vocals by Buddy Melton ofBalsalm Range) has more of a traditional high lonesome bluegrass feel, the Taylor Martin (Taylor Martin’s Engine)-led “Been In Love Before” toes a line between rock and newgrass. It’s the snarl in Martin’s lyric that heats up the song; Gilpin’s limber mandolin pulses like a heartbeat throughout.
And, just to fully-cover the roots music map, “Going To The West” is a Celtic-tinged ballad. It sounds traditional but was (like its fellow tracks) written and arranged by Gilpin. Duke’s sweet vocal is matched with the achingly lovely high and low Irish whistles played by Duncan Wickel (he also plays fiddle). The low whistle — a rhythmic buzz — adds a bold texture to what could have been a cloying and airy song. A bass part by Charles Humphrey III (Steep canyon Rangers) rounds out the song’s considerable depth.
For all of the names dropped in this review, there are still at least handful of additional contributors. That’s worth noting because, as accomplished as Gilpin’s songwriting and arranging is, he’s equally skilled at matching talent with platform. Want to know about the world class roots music currently being exported from Asheville? Listen to Crooked: It’s all right here.