Not even Bill Monroe, who Mike Compton has studied and absorbed for most of his musical life, ever recorded a solo mandolin CD. But that’s what Compton has achieved here. Well, not exactly a solo mandolin CD, because Mike sings along with his beautiful Paul Duff mandolin and mandola on this wonderfully deep, rootsy CD. Featuring a splendid mix of Compton’s originals and traditional tunes, Mike weaves his way through the rich history of country blues, folk, old-time, and Depression-era string band country music that laid the music foundation that Monroe stood upon to create bluegrass.
“Forever Has Come To An End,” a modern classic from Nashville songwriters and supporting musicians Buddy and Julie Miller, lets Mike sing a broken-heart melody in his rich tenor voice and his mandolin rings brightly underneath. There’s nothing more needed, just the true voice of a man who’s toured endlessly and entertained countless audiences while backed by his other true voice, his beloved mandolin.
One music trick Mike employs on multiple cuts is to use cross-tuning, a method Monroe often used in which the strings are tuned to an open chord or other altered form to create a fuller, richer tone than the standard mandolin tuning. He uses the technique to great effect on “He Rose From The Dead,” and it also brings life to tunes like “Jenny Lynn” and his original tune, “Torment Of Billie,” which casts a long shadow in the likeness of Big Mon himself. The title cut, an elegant waltz for mandolin, is also done in cross tuning, allowing the open strings to ring in tender sympathy to the fretted notes, all setting a firm foundation for his haunting tale of Southern poverty and deprivation.
Although he would probably shrug his shoulders and stick his hands deep into his trademark overalls at the mention of it, Mike Compton is a true American music legend in the same league as Norman Blake and his dear companion the late John Hartford. This release won’t appeal to fans who only want to hear hard-driving bluegrass, but it’s not intended to. But for those with an eager ear and an open mind looking for insight into America’s music traditions, Rotten Taters is, not surprisingly, quite tasty. (www.mikecompton.net.)DJM