Despite establishing himself as a formidable presence in the world of bluegrass and traditional mandolin with stints working for the Gibson Brothers, Darol Anger’s Mr. Sun, and duos with the likes of Courtney Hartman and Grant Gordy, Joe Walsh still probably gets more attention from being confused with the Joe Walsh who plays lead guitar in the Eagles and broke the Top 40 with his hit “Rocky Mountain Way.”
He can’t do anything about the similarities in names, but with Borderland, the bluegrass Joe Walsh has dropped a CD that clearly establishes his own musical identity, not only as a great mandolinist, but also as a strong vocalist, songwriter, and bandleader.
Over 11 tunes here, Walsh shows a distinct talent for crafting catchy, engaging originals. “Innisfree,” with its pulsating bass line and achingly poignant vocals, uses the poetry of W.B. Yeats to reflect Walsh’s love for Ireland. Dry as autumn leaves, his voice treads a deliberate balance between lovely and lonesome, always breaking on the side of musicality.
It’s the same with his winsome original “Pine Tree Waltz,” which sounds like a tune from the turn of the last century instead of a modern creation. Joined on the record by an ensemble of gifted players including Hartman, Bruce Molsky, and Brittany Haas, Walsh delivers a concrete and cohesive musical statement here that creates a unique sound and style that is his alone.
Part of the new generation of acoustic artists that is more concerned with creating positive, creative new music in their own image, Walsh has crafted a simple gem of a CD filled with great singing, powerful musicianship, and uniquely personal original tunes that more than stand the test of repeated listening. Buy it, and in the not-to-distant future perhaps, there will be an aging, long-haired rock star telling people, “Sorry, no, I’m not the Joe Walsh who plays mandolin.” (www.joekwalsh.com)DJM