Andrew Collins loves to sing. So after releasing two award-winning instrumental albums—And It Was Good and A Play on Words—he decided the time was right to add some vocals to the mix. The result, Tongue & Groove, is a double set of 11 vocal songs (Tongue) and 11 instrumentals (Groove), and it’s the best of both worlds, marking a new stage in the life of the Andrew Collins Trio.


For years, the trio—Collins (mandolin, mandocello, guitar, octave violin, violin), James McEleney (upright bass), and Mike Mezzatesta (guitar, mandolin, octave violin, violin)—have been at the center of Canada’s acoustic music scene, winning Instrumental Group of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards in 2011, 2014, and 2016. But Tongue gives the trio a different way to shine, bringing their newgrass to more conventional song structures in country (“Black Veil”), folk (“Katy Dear”), standards (“Just a Gigolo”), and honky-tonk (“I’ll Be There If You Ever Want Me”).


The selections here give the players a chance to stretch out within the boundaries of a four-minute song, like Roger Miller’s “Leaving’s Not the Only Way to Go,” where Collins and Mezzatesta dance along the edge of the melody, hinting at the lightest of Mississippi blues. On Graham Nash’s “King Midas in Reverse,” there’s little distinction between verse and improvisation, with solos by Collins and Mezzatesta that let the tune slowly unravel itself. For Nick Drake’s “Cello Song,” Collins balances the simple directness of his voice with the gravity of his rhythm/ lead playing on mandocello and finds a combination of sounds that are as sweet as they are unlikely.


Groove is strongest when all three members are back in their element and free to take these Collins instrumentals as far as they’ll go.  It’s here that McEleney’s bass really comes alive, and instead of trying to serve the song, the trio is playing for the purest pleasure of being together, thinking up ways to combine trad bluegrass, Celtic, Dawg grass, folk, jazz,
neo-classical, and pop into something new. 

 

On mandolin and mandocello, Collins remains the focus, smartly crossing boundaries and playing with wit, imagination, and a beautifully bright, light touch. But there’s more than enough room in these pieces for McEleney to keep moving the pocket and for Mezzatesta to explore the spaces between Collins’s leads, quietly chording in the background (“Sunlight at Midnight”), shifting rhythms (“Badabada Ba Ba”), taking gently jazzy, understated solos (“Lullabye for Len”), building a counterpoint arpeggio (“Famous Last Words”), or flatpicking high-speed, neotrad bluegrass runs (“Big Toaster”). Collins is the virtuoso, the famous one, of course, and it’s his trio—but it’s the combination of players fitting so perfectly alongside one another, anticipating each other’s moves, that brings out the best in all of them.

by Kenny Berkowitz

A double helping of genre-mashing newgrass

This is in fact two albums released together. Tongue and Groove are one disc of songs with vocals and a second disc of all-instrumental tracks by the Toronto-based Andrew Collins Trio.  Across 22 original compositions and covers (of the likes of Pink Floyd, Nick Drake and Graham Nash), the string trio has produced a brilliantly executed, genre-mashing blend of bluegrass, jazz, folk and chamber music.  Their take on Drake’s ‘Cello Song’, which opens Tongue, exquisitely exemplifies the formula.  With the instrument of the song title’s nowhere within earshot, Collins launches into the familiar, Orient-tinged opening bars on mandocello, quickly joined by James McEleney on double-bass and Mike Mezzatesta on octave violin.  Collins delivers an appropriately soft-pitched rendering of Drake’s reflective lyrics (which are complemented by McEleney’s fine harmonizing) while the strings give the spirited melody its due treatment.

On the Groove side of the equation, the trio offers a fascinating array of instrumental showcases including imaginative arrangements of classic forms, as in the Irish reel “The Long Dusty Road” and entertainingly idiosyncratic original pieces such as “The Grumpus”, which sounds like a waltz trying to find its way home after consuming too many libations at the concert after-party.

by Doug Deloach

This is some mighty mandolinin', from Canada's eight-string king. Happy both singing and playing, Collins gives us the best of both worlds over these two sets, one all vocals and the other instrumentals. Like all good bluegrass players, he has a sense of humour in his choices, as well as a sense of adventure. On the instrumental side, that sees him rework Pink Floyd's Goodbye Blue Sky, while on the vocals disc (the Tongue one, of course), he has a go at everyone from Nick Drake to Roger Miller to The Hollies. A relaxed singer with that rustic quality to his vocals, he turns both Just A Gigolo and King Midas In Reverse into numbers that sound like folk wisdom.

 

When it comes to the pure playing on Groove, the whole trio shines, and shows off some multi-instrumental skills as well. Collins moves from mandolin to mandocello to violin. Mike Mezzatesta handles guitar, mandolin, and violin, and James McEleney covers bass and bowed acoustic double-bass, depending on the needs. This lets them jam in imaginative combos such as dueling mandolins on David Grisman's classic Dawg Grass, twin fiddles on Collins' own Kentakaya Waltz, and several jazz/bluegrass numbers featuring fast tempos or old-time fun. There's tremendous interplay among the trio as they come up with twists and turns, always in glorious harmony. As much as I love the story-telling on Tongue, my jaw dropped over Groove.

by Bob Mersereau

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 loose 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 Magazine 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. It's 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  musician, Kevin Breit. The trios 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 seperate simultaneous releases. The flow of the two volumes titles suggests a strong connection either as two linked volumes or as seperate albums. But its 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.

by Marc Higgins

Finally, there’s an album paying long-overdue homage to practical, yet rustic bathroom panelling. What’s that? It’s not? Fortunately, Tongue / Groove is a paired album set from phenomenally talented, multi-award-winning Canadians, The Andrew Collins Trio. Their hard-to-pigeonhole fusion sound is sometimes referred to as ‘chambergrass’ but absorbs such a broad range of influences, it’s hard to know where to start. There’s bluegrass, obviously, plus flecks of country and bold splashes of swing, lounge and jazz. Here and there are Celtic touches, hints of Spain, Greece even, as well as playful sparks of popular music.

For a trio, they make a big sound across a hugely varied repertoire, all played with a relaxed and fluid skill. James McEleney’s supple expressive upright bass is the backbone for Mike Mezzatesta (guitar, mandolin, octave violin) and Andrew Collins. Collins is a staggering mandolin player, able to achieve extraordinary speed, variety and nuance, whilst also being equally fluent on mandocello, mandola, guitar and violin. And that’s just on this album: the band appears to switch and shape-shift between instruments and roles with absolute assurance and ease.

It’s an incredibly polished album pair, with Tongue, naturally, giving tongue to the songs within. A selection of Collins’ favourites, taking in The Hollies via Nick Drake and a couple of Roger Millers, plus a couple of his own compositions, it’s something of a departure from a band mostly known for instrumental music.

Collins brings a strong, slightly gritty vocal that gives suitably moody substance to Drake’s ‘Cello Song’. Elsewhere, McEleny provides vocal support and harmonies, as on fellow Canadian, Kevin Breit’s ‘Nothing About Us’, which at first sounds incongruously ‘modern’ next to more old-timey songs, but soon settles comfortably into place. In an album of covers, the trio’s startling but entirely brilliant reworking of The Hollies’ ‘King Midas In Reverse’ was a revelation.

As a songwriter, Collins seems to have plenty up his sleeve, too. ‘Coming Into Hard Times Blues’ demonstrates a Tom Lehrer-like sardonic wit. The intense, sawing violins of ‘Black Veil’ (co-written by Collins) lend drama to a darkly murderous tale (a strong contrast with the absurdly chirpy stabbing in ‘Katy Dear’).

It seems that the band felt their audience would expect instrumentals, so they delivered that as well, recording the Groove album to partner Tongue. Groove is a perfect, laid-back lazy Sunday soundtrack, prominently featuring Collins compositions like the gloriously mardy, low-slung ‘The Grumpus’, madly contagious ‘Badabada Ba Ba’ and the subtle mood changes of the Radiohead-ish ‘Lullaby For Ken’. Another surprising, yet oddly successful cover emerges as Pink Floyd’s ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ gets stitched together with the traditional ‘Ship In The Clouds’.

Altogether, there’s so much going on in these two albums – in breadth and variety of styles, in musical skill – that it’s rather breath-taking. Luckily, just another of the talents this trio has is to make their work feel entirely natural, almost slouchily comfortable and deceptively easy on the ear. Tongue and Groove are worthwhile additions to any collection.

by Su O’Brien

The latest project from the 2016 Canadian Folk Music Awards Best Instrumental Group of the Year – Andrew Collins Trio – is the cleverly named pair of CDs Tongue and Groove (andrewcollinstrio.com). The first is a departure for the band, with 11 tracks featuring lead vocals by multi-mando frontman Collins for the most part, with harmonies and occasional lead lines provided by bass player James McEleney. The third member of the trio, Mike Mezzatesta, keeps busy on guitar, mandolin, fiddle and mandola.
 
It’s an eclectic collection of traditional “down homey” numbers, novelty songs, cover versions and a few originals. Of particular note are Collins’ own reworking of Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill’s Long Black Veil and Roger Miller’s The Hat. But for me it is the instrumental disc Groove that really shines. Replete with some of the finest bluegrass pickin’ you’re likely to find this far north, there’s also a mix of styles, including some very Django-like vibes to which the double strings of Collins’ mandolin give a new twist, a beautiful lullaby and a couple of fiddle tunes. Standouts include Poplar Bluff, Kentakaya Waltz, Badabada Ba Ba and Big Toaster.

by David Olds

It takes moxy to cover one of the moodiest and warmest of Nick Drake's songs, but Toronto mandolin innovator Andrew Collins not only pulls off a faithful, yet interesting cello-less version of "Cello Song," but opens his new double album with it. A fan of clever album concepts, Collins' latest effort is two albums in one, and the first half, Tongue, quite surprisingly features a whole lot of great singing.
 
It's not that Collins hasn't done plenty of singing before, notably as a member of bluegrass band the Foggy Hogtown Boys. But his solo fare thus far has been focused on all things instrumental, including his last Andrew Collins Trio album, And It Was Good.  So this effort, with his unmistakeable voice front and centre, comes as a nice surprise. He lends it to old chestnuts like Roger Miller's "The Hat," fellow mandolin player Kevin Breit's "Nothing About Us," and his own "Coming Into Hard Time Blues." He even convincingly scats his way through "Just A Gigolo." With an enviable range and a whole lot of character, it feels like Collins has really come into his own as a lead singer.
 
Of course, there's no shortage of fine instrumentation on this double album. In addition to his signature mandolin, Collins also plays mandocello, violin and octave violin. The trio is rounded out by James McEleney on upright bass and vocals and Mike Mezzatesta on guitar, violin, and mandolin. Fans of this band's instrumental prowess won't be disappointed by the dizzying array of notes, though, as on their earlier recordings, there's a deep dedication to melody and respect for tasteful restraint here, too. McEleney's bass solos are fulsome without venturing into gratuitous territory, and Mezzatesta's guitar playing has a light, playful quality that belies his fine technique.


On the instrumental Groove, we're treated to a whole crop of Collins' new acoustic compositions, and as the name would suggest, these tunes have a lot more groove and rhythm to them than the more orchestral ones on his last album. All three musicians really shine on the bouncy "Badabada Ba Ba," and the moody and aptly named "The Grumpus." The big surprise comes halfway through, with an instrumental version of Pink Floyd's "Goodbye Blue Sky" paired in an unlikely medley with the traditional tune "Ship in the Clouds." Collins rounds out the album with a rendition of the David Grisman classic "Dawg Grass" because, well, he can.

by Kristin Cavoukian

Sometimes it’s not the effects of one’s environs that leads an artist down a particular path. Indeed, if one lives in an isolated area devoid of outside influences, then the impetus is to explore new music based strictly on instinct or other inclinations.

That was the situation Andrew Collins found himself in. A native of Toronto, Canada, he immersed himself in an array of different genres — bluegrass, jazz, classical and Celtic music chief among them — while formulating his eventual direction. Early outfits the Creaking Tree String Quartet and the Foggy Hogtown Boys attracted attention at home, specializing in music that was mainly of the instrumental variety. He also pursued a solo career, one which resulted in a series of individual albums, and eventually a Juno nomination for his third outing under his own aegis, Cats and Dogs.

With some success now under his belt, Collins put a new band together, one that includes Collins on mandolin, mandocello, fiddle, mandola, guitar and vocals, Mike Mezzatesta playing guitar, mandolin, mandola, and fiddle, and James McEleney handling bass and vocals. The result was the Andrew Collins Trio. The group has released four albums to date — A Play on Words, a sophomore set entitled And It Was Good, and two efforts recently released simultaneously, collectively dubbed Tongue & Groove. While the trio continues to explore mainly instrumental music, they’ve also stretched out their sound, incorporating not only the bluegrass music that Collins was originally introduced to by a friend in high school, but other sounds as well, from folk to jazz to more exotic and original influences. While their sound is deft, introspective, supple and skillful, the band has managed to expand their reach by incorporating occasional vocals and unlikely covers that include songs by David Grisman, Nick Drake, Graham Nash, Roger Waters, Ray Price, and Roger Miller.

Nevertheless, Collins still writes the majority of material and it’s his dexterity and that of his bandmates that distinguishes their specific sound. 

“After seeing the David Grisman Quintet play for the first time, I broke down and finally bought my first mandolin,” Collins recalls. “Since then, I discovered other mandolin heroes such as Matt Flinner, Chris Thile, Emory Lester, and so many other musicians that influenced my music — Bela Fleck, Darol Anger and David Grier, among them.”

That was just over 20 years ago. Collins says that at the time, he found himself in a very small circle of like-minded musical aficionados. “I was living in Whistler, BC when I first took up the mandolin,” he explains. “Shortly after that I moved to Vancouver for almost a year. While there, Canada didn’t have a large bluegrass scene. At least not one that I knew of. The only young people that I was aware of — that were really serious about their music — were a very small group of players that were back in my home town of Toronto. I moved back to immerse myself in this community of about five people. Luckily, my timing was great, because this was a couple years before the film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, and we were embraced as some of the founders of the Toronto scene as more people became aware of the music.”

“Over the next 20 years, Toronto’s bluegrass scene has exploded,” he continues.” There are tons of great bands in Toronto and all across Canada now. In fact, you could find some bluegrass music every night of the week. Because of Canada’s immense size and disparate space, musicians will often gravitate to Toronto, although there are great scenes in Vancouver and in the Maritimes.”

While Collins cites Sam Bush, Bill Monroe and Jethro Burns among his seminal influences, over the years he’s continued to expand his musical palette. That exploration began with those earlier outfits the Foggy Hogtown Boys and the Creaking Tree String Quartet, and quickly encompassed his solo efforts and an occasional side project well before the Andrew Collins Trio began commanding his attention full time five years ago.

“I’m most excited about the new double release, which features one album of all vocal material and one album of all instrumental music,” Collins concludes. “Since so much of my material has been instrumental over the years, people expect our show to be almost all instrumental. However I love to sing, and we’ve always incorporated vocals into the show. We got so used to people at the CD table asking which album has the songs that we sing, that I decided to finally do an album of all vocal music. As the recording date approached, I thought that since most people think of us as an instrumental group, we might as well do an album of instrumental music as well. Thus the birth of a double album.”

Recently the band has also expanded its geographical reach. They began touring internationally, playing stages in the U.K., Germany, the Czech Republic, Israel, Australia and, increasingly, the U.S. 

“Actually, we’ve been playing the US more than in Canada,” Collins says.

  

Consequently, Collins has been able to come to his own conclusions why bluegrass is so well received across the globe. “In this day and age, in a world that has so much electric music, where the sounds are so treated with effects and often even computer generated, the average person has been alienated from the unadorned sound of acoustic instruments being played,” he surmises. “Bluegrass is a very technically demanding music. The tempos are high, improvisation is a huge component, vocal and instrumental mastery are kind of necessary for it to be played right. I think that when the average person hears it, they are often surprised that acoustic music can be so compelling, and that those sounds could come simply from stringed instruments and fingers. Also, this music encourages the listener to take part. Rather than encouraging the listener to simply consume the music, there’s a huge jam culture that encourages people to take up an instrument and start playing it as well. I love the fact that we, as bluegrass fans and musicians, are ambassadors to the music we love. By going out and playing it, we’re showing people whats possible, and encouraging them to take part as well.”

Still, Collins admits he still has work to do at home when it comes to spurring local audiences to find a bond with bluegrass.

“New acoustic music isn’t as widely known in Canada, so there’s a bit of educating the audience of its existence,” he suggests. “It’s great to play for audiences that think you’ve invented something new. (chuckles) Honestly though, it really has been so warmly received.” 

To his credit, he’s attained a certain elevated stature as a result of the fact that he’s garnered some seven Canadian Folk Music Awards and no less than five Juno nominations. 

He notes that all the accolades have been the result of a certain acoustic acumen. “There’s something about it that is connecting with people,” he says with satisfaction.

by Lee Zimmerman

Good Grass: Andrew Collins Trio's progressive sound defies labels

Categorizing the music of the Andrew Collins Trio is an exercise in futility.  Collins himself is hard-pressed to find the right descriptors. “There’s still no convenient way to say what kind of music I play,” Collins said in a phone interview from his home of Toronto. “Everyone who is not into bluegrass thinks it’s bluegrass, and everyone in bluegrass says, ‘That ain’t bluegrass.’”

The temptation is to put a bunch of adjectives in front of the word “grass” — words like “chamber,” “new” or “jazz.”  The problem is finding the right one. None really encompass the kind of boundary-pushing, inventive music that Collins is making with band mates Mike Mezzatesta and James McEleney, on a variety of string instruments, including mandolin, bass, guitar, mandola and mandocello.

 

On the trio’s new double album, “Tongue & Groove,” the songs range from Pink Floyd’s “Goodbye Blue Sky” to David Grisman-style swing, a reflection of Collins’ interest in mining new terrain, similar to the musical explorations of Bela Fleck, Darol Anger and Grisman, one of the Collins’ primary influences.  Growing up in Toronto, Collins was a passionate music fan for years, tinkering periodically with guitar before a high school friend and banjo player, Chris Coole, introduced him to bluegrass.  A few years later, he saw Grisman play in Washington state, a life-changing event. Grisman, a mandolin player and frequent collaborator with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, has a unique style dubbed “Dawg Grass,” that melds traditional bluegrass with jazz. It swings in a way that is much different than the Bill Monroe school of bluegrass.  “About five years after falling in love with mandolin, I broke down and bought one. After Grisman, I couldn’t help myself. And it took over my life very quickly,” Collins said.  He took lessons and studied intensely, and within months, picked up gigs. Collins later studied bluegrass in South Plains College in Texas and jazz at Humber College in Toronto.

Considering his influences, incorporating elements of jazz and classical music into his playing and composing was a logical step.  “All these guys like Bela Fleck and Grisman, they hone their chops through bluegrass and start taking their formidable skills into other genres,” Collins said. “Some of my tunes might sound like straight-ahead jazz but a good portion of music is drawing from many styles.”

Collins is well-known in Canadian folk music circles and has been nominated for five Juno Awards, Canada’s version of the Grammys, and has won five Canadian Folk Music awards. The Toronto Star has called him a “musical scholar of the highest distinction.”  For all those accolades, Collins may be most fulfilled with he and his band’s appearance at MerleFest last week. Collins journeyed down to Wilkesboro in 1994, and discovered Gillian Welch, who had won the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest the year before.  “I was blown away,” he said. At that MerleFest, Collins also saw some of his heroes — Sam Bush, Vassar Clements and Tony Rice.  “The idea that I’d get to play MerleFest just never would have occurred to me,” Collins said. “To come as an artist is exciting.”

by Lisa O'Donnell

Andrew Collins Trio brings double album's worth of new music to Prism show

In the mood for some acoustic music, but can’t decide between vocal harmonies and tight instrumentals? The Andrew Collins Trio’s latest recording, the double album “tongue and groove,” gives the disciplines equal time. The new album project has an instrumental collection on one disc and vocal selections on the other.

During Sunday evening’s Prism Coffeehouse show at C’ville Coffee, the trio will stay busy singing a combination of new material and past hits and playing an ever-changing lineup of acoustic instruments.

Collins, a five-time Juno Award nominee back home in Canada, plays mandolin, fiddle, guitar, mandola and mandocello. His trio partners are Mike Mezzatesta, who’s at home on guitar, mandolin, fiddle and mandola, and James McEleney, who adds bass, mandocello and vocals.  “I play mandolin and mandocello and some fiddle, and James plays upright [bass] and sings with me,” Collins said. “He plays [bass] with the bow a lot, so there’s a lot more of a string trio sound.”

Each musician brings individual influences to shape the confluence of roots, folk, Celtic, jazz and chambergrass that Collins calls “our genre of bending and blending.”  “Mike is a mandolin player at heart,” Collins said of Mezzatesta. “In a lot of ways, Mike and I are coming from similar influences.” Both love the music of the David Grisman Quartet, for instance.  McEleney, however, is relatively new to bluegrass; he comes from more of a jazz background.  “James sort of stumbled into it,” Collins said, praising his improvisational credentials.

Part of the fun of performing both categories of “tongue and groove” material has been finding out how the songs best make the leap from recording studio to the stage.  “I’m surprised at how easily they’re coming together, and audiences love them,” Collins said.  Take “Black Veil,” for instance. Collins revisited the somber story of “Long Black Veil” by Marijohn Wilkinson and Danny Dill, in which an innocent man executed for a murder takes the secret of his affair with his best friend’s wife with him to the grave instead of revealing his whereabouts that night for a life-saving alibi. Collins dove more deeply into the 1959 country classic’s plot for clarity and gave it the full string trio treatment.

The doomed speaker of “Long Black Veil” “never explained how he got wrongly accused of a murder, so I wrote a backstory,” Collins said. “We’re twin fiddles and bowed bass all the way through. The audience reaction was great.”

 

On a more lighthearted note is “The Grumpus,” which Collins wrote for his 4-year-old daughter.  When she’s in a grouchy mood, he’ll ask her if she’s being a grumpus; she often responds in the affirmative. If you have kids, or remember being one, it’ll strike a chord.  “It’s kind of a funny, quirky tune,” he said.

These days, the trio is Collins’ day job, and he’s delighted. Audiences have been enjoying the songs, the stories between them, the frequent style and tempo shifts and the versatile musicians’ ever-changing instrumental choices.

“By creating this music, we’re pushing our boundaries,” Collins said.  “It’s super rewarding to get to play music that is our own creation for audiences. ... We think our show is pretty entertaining. You’re going to be taken on a real journey.”

by Jane Dunlap Sathe