Andrew Collins Trio – Tongue and Groove

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

The Andrew Collins Trio sounds like a suited, cool and dry 1950s Brubeck style Jazz group, all buzz cuts, Raybans and dog tooth suits. The truth could not be wilder and farther away. Andrew Collins and his trio marry the impeccable workmanship and musicality of classic modern jazz with the fiery attack and infectious smile of furious Bluegrass. With Andrew equally comfortable on Mandolin, Mandocello, Mandola, Guitar and Fiddle, alongside equally versatile and virtuosic Mike Messatesta on Guitar, Mandolin and Mandola and underpinned by the rock solid Double Bass, Mandocello and vocals of James McEleney, they perform something that has been described as Chamber Grass. Whatever you call it, you can marvel at the influences, references and nuances or you can close your eyes and lose yourself in two albums worth of stunning playing and invention. “Tongue and Groove” is one of those perfect album titles, a disc of songs – tongue and a disc of instrumentals – groove. This is album that does exactly what it says on the tin. Andrew Collins bring a seemingly effortless and very smooth musical prowess to their playing. It’s never overly slick, widdly or dexterous for its own sake. Like watching a Pizza Chef shaping the dough base there is considerable visible skill and experience being used to get the task done, but it is never overly flashy. “Cello Song” is a dark version of the Nick Drake song. Collins’ Mandocello has the resonant sound of an Oud which alongside the other-worldly octave violin and those hypnotic wordless passages layers on the atmosphere, suggesting a sun crossed Mediterranean or North African courtyard. Tom Parker’s “I Drink Whisky (My Gal Drinks Wine)” is more journeyman, a bright old timey piece of blue grass. “Black Veil” as “Long Black Veil” was written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkins, most famously covered by Lefty Frizell its been recorded by everyone from Johnny Cash and Marianne Faithfull to the Chieftains. Dark and brooding the trios version and arrangement is stunning, a dark mix of bowed double bass, violin and some sublime vocals. “ Just A Gigolo” is a version of Louie Prima’s 50s career relaunching swinging coupling of two early 20th Century classics “Just a Gigolo” and “I Ain’t Got Nobody”. “Thanks to Prima” and a gloriously overblown 80s version by David Lee Roth (possibly his only mention in Northern Sky Reviews until he joins Fisherman’s Friends for their Van Halen covers album) (Ha! – Ed), these songs are forever joined. The opposite of the Prima celebration of excesses and failure, the Andrew Collins Trio version starts with some pathos like the regretful strumming of a wry drunk, building to a sharp piece of jazzy mandolin and vocalise that retains a connection with real emotion. “Coming into Hard Time Blues” is a fine Collins original. Its acoustic delivery, the timeless quality of the arrangement and those warm Barbershop harmonies mean it sounds like both a 30s 78 and a Trump era contemporary piece of wry commentary. Perhaps that’s the point, making a musical connection in these hard times. With a borrow from Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin’”, “The Hat” is a jaunty throwaway take on the Roger Miller song, along with the closer “Leaving’s Not the Only Way to Go” there are a pair of Miller tracks on the album. “Nothing about Us” is by the always interesting Canadian singer songwriter and musician’s musician, Kevin Breit. The trio’s version is emotionally charged and heartfelt, an acoustic lament with some beautiful guitar and mandolin. “King Midas in Reverse” is the Graham Nash song celebrating the opposite of the golden touch. Andrew Collins and Trio manage to make this self-deprecating Hymn their own. The verse vocals have a touch of world weariness and the choruses with Andrew and James work well with the pop saccharine veneer of the Hollies’ original. “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)” was originally a 1954 for Ray Price. After JJ Cale’s and Eric Clapton’s electric guitar led versions, Collins’ trio cover the jaunty tune with Hot Club Jazz guitar and rhythm. “Katy Dear” is a traditional song, variation on “Silver Dagger”, delivered here as a brisk Mandolin and vocal tour de force. The final Roger Miller song is a bitter sweet Country tune with some fine playing and vocal harmonies. “Groove” is the aptly titled instrumental album from this pair. “Famous Last Words” are wonderful Guitar and Mandolin tunes that have some of the relentless attack and rhythm of Leo Kottke, while the interplay with the Double Bass suggests Pentangle mid-flight. The Grumpus is wonderfully knotted and gnarly, like Bella Fleck’s electro Jazz Blue Grass tunes. It swings, but like a tired moonshine drunk desperate for the floor to stay still. “Goodbye Blue Sky”, from Pink Floyd’s 1979 opus The Wall, is simply glorious. The trio capture the sense of menace and power perfectly and wring every bit of emotion out of the tune. Floyd themselves not afraid to dabble with acoustic pastoral imagery and atmosphere, welcomed into the Folk tradition, glorious. Simply beautiful is “Lullaby for Len”, crying out to be sequenced as perfect incidental music, just close your eyes and let the pictures form. Eerie with a real hairs on the back of the neck quality is “Kentakaya Waltz” the Violins crackle with real emotion and, power. Forget “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, this is the real sound of a supernaturally possessed fiddle channelling otherworldly inspiration. So, like Eliza Carthy’s Red Rice, how do we view this release from the Andrew Collins Trio, is it a double album or two separate simultaneous releases. The flow of the two volumes titles suggests a strong connection either as two linked volumes or as separate albums. But it’s definitely “Tongue and Groove”, you have to start with the songs album, “Groove Tongue” sounds like a Harry Potter or Tolkien character and twee acoustic middle earth this isn’t. Across two albums worth of goodies, gems and delights it sometimes feels like we have been spoilt, like Andrew Collins and his trio have revealed all of their tricks, but can you really have too much of a good thing.