Mike Stevens,
The World is Only Air
(Borealis, 2001)

Mike Stevens is one of Canada's finest (perhaps even THE finest) bluegrass harmonica players. Mike has backed a number of well-known musicians in the world of bluegrass music, from Bill Monroe to Raymond McLain. He has performed in a number of countries and has regular appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. This is Mike's fourth release, following three previous solo harmonica discs. (The first earned the "Recording of the Year" award from the Central Canadian Bluegrass Association.) His career is extensive and awe-inspiring, from studio work to instruction.

This new disc is a groundbreaking and innovative project. Mike has put together a number of Canadian fiddle tunes -- all played on the harmonica, of course. Backing Mike on this project are some outstanding musicians: Don Reed (fiddle), Steve Piticco (guitar), Matthew Shawn Fleming (percussion), Gene Falbo (bass), Jeff Bird (B3, bass), Randall Coryell (drums) and Raymond McLain (fiddle). Add to this splendid mix Mike on a variety of harmonicas, and you have one incredible disc filled with some unique and excellent instrumental music!

The disc opens with "Big John McNeil." It is a lightning-fast piece and Mike really shows some unbelievable musicianship.

The "hardest tune Mike has ever attempted on the "harp" without straying from the melody is "Reel de Pointe-au-Pic." He worked out the tune in twelve different keys until he found the voicing that matched the fiddle perfectly, according to the liner notes. It is a familiar and delightful reel, and will have your toes tapping along of their own accord.

"The Unreel Breakdown" is an original composition of Mike's, and it is one of my favorites on this disc. Those of you familiar with my reviews know that I have a thing for reels, and this one is unique in both its instrumentation and presentation. Mike likens it to "letting out a big scream after a math test. After playing all these strict melodies, you have to let loose a little."

The accompanying booklet is really well done. Mike has included pictures of what I assume is his dog, an adorable retriever from the look of him. For every track, Mike has included notes on which key, which harp, and information that fellow players will find invaluable. It has a real down-home feel, which goes wonderfully with the down-home music!

[ by Naomi de Bruyn ]
Rambles: 11 May 2002

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