Scott Napier - All Out Front

Scott Napier - All Out Front

No Label, No Number

If there’s a young mandolin player who deserves to be out front on today’s bluegrass scene, it’s Scott Napier. This southeastern Kentucky native has been an able sideman to such notables as Larry Sparks, Dale Ann Bradley, and Marty Raybon. Now comes his first solo CD, a swirl of tradition and innovation.

It’s a reviewer’s delight to encounter a musician who makes you put down your note-taking pencil and just listen. Scott Napier has the total package of technical virtuosity, great tone, good taste and just sheer fun with the mandolin. I was hooked from the first track, the bouncy and insinuating original instrumental “Blue Barn.” Another Napier tour de force is “Dash Hound” (check out those effortless triplets followed by shining harmonics and blazing-high position riffs).

Napier has recruited a stellar supporting cast—all of them truly out front—that makes this CD additionally appealing. Michael Cleveland fiddles on most of the tracks, and he’s at his best here; his playing both spirited and nuanced. Bobby Osborne contributes his instrumental “Cherokee Lady.” You can practically see him and Scott grinning, picker to picker, during their mandolin duets.

And there’s pleasing variety. One of the real keepers is a one-minute Napier solo “Intermission Blues” played on the resonator mandolin. He gets such a lonesome, compelling sound from the instrument that you wonder why it’s never caught on in bluegrass. Another original, “Young One,” shows that Napier and company can swing with jazzy, understated elegance. They also put their stamp on the Bill Monroe classic “Bluegrass Stomp.”

There are three vocal tracks, all noteworthy. Dale Ann Bradley beautifully interprets “Life’s Hourglass” (a touching original by Melinda Napier) with Don Rigsby adding harmony. Rigsby returns to sing a real home-in-the-hills lead on “Carbide Light,“ a Scott Napier composition that could pass as a century-old coal miner’s song. Marty Raybon is in equally fine form on the Rodney Crowell number “Long Hard Road.”

I don’t have space to praise all the other excellent musicians here, but special mention must be made of Clay Hess (flatpicking guitar) and Josh McMurray (banjo). They wonderfully compliment Napier’s mandolin stylings, and I hope we’ll hear more collaborations from them. Meanwhile, All Out Front should bring Scott Napier to a wider listenership. He’s earned it. (Scott Napier, P.O. Box 443, Clay City, KY 40312, myspace.com/scottnapiermandolin.) RDS