The world of electric mandolin
playing is still a small pond, but its starting to fill up with some big fish.
Todays catch is Ben Trout, who hails,
appropriately enough, from Maine, a state known far and wide as a fishermans
A former member of a band called Psykovsky, Ben has
assembled a new five-piece rock ensemble named—you guessed it—Trout. You may have heard Ben play
without realizing it: Clips from his Metalgrass CD have been used between
segments on National Public Radio's All Things
Considered (someone there apparently has quite a jones for mandolin music).
Released in 1998, Metalgrass is really neither metal (at least not when compared
to, say, Alex Gregory) nor bluegrass, but it is
a nice eclectic collection of instrumental rocknroll with both progressive and
folky touches. Trouts main axe is a doubleneck 5-string/8-string "Junior
II" electric mandolin built by Maine luthier Joel
Eckhaus. He also plays a 4-string Flying V electric and an F-style acoustic; I
dont know who built them.
This disc came out before Ben assembled his current band.
In addition to mandolin, he plays all the guitar and bass tracks on Metalgrass, and
indeed the tunes do have something of a "studio sound." One gets the impression
that most of this material hadnt been performed live much before it was recorded.
Bens splashy compositions are full of tempting hooks, but tend to lack a strong
melodic through-line. However, they do a fine job of showing off his talent, which is
considerable. This guy is no fingerling—he puts up a fight like a 40-pound steelhead.
The best electric mandolinists dont just play a
plugged-in mandolin; they incorporate techniques, developed for years by rock, jazz, and
blues guitarists, that arent practical on acoustic instruments. Trout showcases a
number of such techniques on the title track of this disc; youll hear some
well-executed pull-off trills and note bends. Plus, if you want to know what a mandolin
sounds like through both a distortion pedal and a wah-wah effect, "Metal Grass"
will show you. "Sky Rats" has a promising uptempo start, but kind of loses its
way in the slow section. Mindy Jostyn lays down some killer harmonica work on this tune,
as well as on the acoustic, bluesy "Winter Hawk" (on which she also plays
fiddle). "Wrong Bros. Boogie," with its clean, fluid, lightning-fast chromatic
16th-note runs, might be Trouts best playing on the disc.
About the drumming—courtesy of the tag team of Jeff
Thompson, Gary Gold, and Val Michalski—Im not qualified to say much, except
that it seems fairly restrained (which is nice, actually—theres nothing worse
than a drummer who gets in the way of good mandolin playing). Im glad I finally
snagged a copy of this CD—it was almost the one that got away.
To preview Metalgrass, you can download MP3s from
the Trout Web site. To order a
copy, drop Ben a line at email@example.com.
Go ahead and give Metalgrass a spin—you just might fall for it hook, line, and
Overall: Emando content:
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