If you’re looking for a hidden gem, “Home from the Mills”–by bluegrass veterans Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein–is it.
Both artists, while lesser known, have been in the A-league of bluegrass music for decades, playing in bands with lots of names you know well: Bela Fleck, Tony Rice, JD Crowe, Mike Auldridge, the Country Gentlemen. They have been with Emmylou Harris on her recent tours, and much of the material on this disc comes from the work they were presenting there. But I only say all of that in order to say this: these are players that have been at the top of their game for literally decades. As a result, this collection has a relaxed confidence that is so gorgeous, so real, and so rare.
“Home From the Mills” is essentially a volume two of their last release, “2:10 Train.” On both collections they revisit songs that, in some cases, they have been playing in one form or another forever. “Whiskey Before Breakfast/Red Haired Boy” are tried and true to a fault. Both are staples of parking lot jam sessions from one coast to the other, and there are more than 200 versions of each on iTunes. You’d think these tunes had been wrung of their last drops of life long before now. So, it really means something that the versions here sound so alive, fresh, and innovative. And you can hear that. The arrangements demand a close listen, as does the instrumentation, using a mandola in place of the mandolin. Likewise with “Fisher’s Hornpipe,” which is a chestnut in anyone’s hands except theirs. As in the liner notes, they play these tunes not out of a sense of tradition or nostalgia, but in the words of Gaudreau, “It’s so much fun to play!”
There lots of other gems here too, some that have been done often, others which haven’t been done often enough: Gordon Lightfoot’s “Shadows,” Eric Bogle’s “Leaving Nancy,” Tim O’Brien’s “Rod McNeil,” Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” and a piece from Massenet’s opera, “Manon,” “Enferment les Yeux” (this last being a piece that makes more sense in this collection than you might think). All the tracks are fresh and entirely welcome and despite all the various sources all flow very naturally from one track to the next. It feels a bit like you are sitting with them on a Sunday afternoon, kicking around some songs that are, quite simply, loved and played for no reason beyond that fact.
The collection ends with an interpretation of the Fats Waller hit “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” which is an absolute delight. In the notes, Gaudreau writes that “Our rendition has a bit of a ‘swing’ feel which, in truth, is not our strong suit, but, hey, we’re just having a grand time playing music.” It shows, and that’s what makes this disc such a fantastic—and unique—collection.