To know Fletcher Bright is to love him. The Chattanooga entrepreneur has had a side career playing fiddle with the Dismembered Tennesseans for over fifty years—with the same banjo player, Ed “Doc” Cullis. You have to appreciate a man whose band T-shirts read: Bluegrass music. Sung from the heart through the nose.
Everything musical I’ve ever heard Fletcher do—from teaching, to jamming, to performing, to playing boogie-woogie piano, to recording—has been from the heart, including this project, Black Tie And Bluegrass. Here, he and his band have partnered with the strings of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera to bring us a rich assortment of selections ranging from Bill Monroe’s “Southern Flavor” and “Jerusalem Ridge” to “Tennessee Waltz” (sung by bass player Laura Walker) to the fiddle tunes “Fisher’s Hornpipe” and “Rutland’s Reel.” Three slow-paced gems, “Black Mountain Air,” “East Texas Waltz,” and “Waltz For Sarah” (by mandolin player Don Cassell) positively blossom when surrounded by the lush sounds of the symphony. An additional four selections are performed by the Dismembered Tennesseans with “Old Dangerfield” serving as a showcase for Doc’s melodic banjo style.
Fletcher himself orchestrated all the tunes except “Ashokan Farewell” and with his solid grounding in both fiddle and bluegrass, these arrangements never “get above their raisin’,” but remain true to the spirit of the song. If these tunes are less fiery and furious than a bluegrass band might play them, the intricate string harmonies and interactions between violins, violas, and cello more than compensate. The well-designed CD booklet also deserves a mention for its readable liner notes and lovely pictures. The photogenic Mr. Bright is in all of them. The project ends, appropriately, with a live recording of Fletcher flat burning up “Lee Highway Blues” ably supported by his band. Yes, Black Tie And Bluegrass offers a different sound, but in many ways it is bluegrass to the core. Check it out. (Fletcher Bright, 118 N. Heritage Ave., Lookout Mtn., TN 37350, www.dismemberedtennesseans.com.) MHH