When At Last
Nominated for a 2008 GRAMMY ("Little Monk," for Best Country Instrumental Performance) and for the 2008 IBMA Instrumental Album of the Year award!
From Vintage Guitar Magazine November 2007
Russ Barenberg is a guitar superstar that far too few people have heard of. Hopefully his latest release, When At Last, will bring his artistry to a more appropriately sized audience. Barenberg began his career in 1970 when he formed the seminal band Country Cooking, which also included two banjo whizzes, Peter Wernick and Tony Trischka. Some of his career highlights include his first solo album from 1980, Cowboy Calypso, which became an instant classic. In 1993 Barenberg recorded the influential trio album Skip, Hop and Wobble with bassist Edgar Meyer and Jerry Douglas.
Every cut on his newest album, When At Last, is a Barenberg original except for the traditional French folk song, “Aux Marches du Palais,” which he re-orchestrated and arranged. Some of the tunes display a strong Celtic influence, such as “Little Monk,” while others have a Dixieland feel, as on “The Man in The Hat.” Bluegrass is represented by the tune “On Milo’s Back.” Perhaps the most innovative cut, “A Dream for Sophie,” combines many influences, and demonstrates Barenberg’s special ability to synthesize traditional forms into modern acoustic music. Call me an old softy, but my favorite song on the CD is the fiddle tune, “Jump Back Barley,” named after his dog’s reaction to new situations.
Barenberg has played a very rare 1945 Gibson “banner” J-45 for many years. Due to materials shortages during World War Two Gibson was forced to make instruments with whatever wood was available. His J-45 has laminated maple back and sides instead of the more usual solid mahogany, but in his hands it sounds simply glorious. Barenberg also plays several other special instruments on the CD, including a 1946 mahogany J-45, a 2004 Olympia Op-20SWM, a 1944 Gibson LG-2 and Tacoma baritone guitar. He also plays mandolins on several cuts, using a 1924 Gibson A-1, a 1918 Vega Cylinder-back and a 2005 National Model One resonator mandolin.
Other musicians on When At Last include Dennis Crouch and Viktor Krauss on bass, Jerry Douglas on dobro, Stuart Duncan and Ruthie Dornfield on fiddle, Kenny Malone on percussion and drums, and Jeremiah McLane on accordion. All are seasoned pros with hundreds of sessions under their belts. Here they display their ability to bring the excitement of discovery to Barenberg’s compositions.
Recorded by Erick Jaskowiak at the Compass Sound Studio in Nashville, TN. When At Last epitomizes the Compass Records’ sound. Compass Records’ sonics are so consistently superb that I’ve come to expect nothing less near-perfection. When At Last doesn’t disappoint. Every instrument sounds correct with just the right harmonic balance. Jaskowiak adds just a smidgen of “room sound” and top end air to the mix and viola! - fidelity that pushes the boundaries of CD sound.
I review a lot of fine albums every month, but very few achieve the status of an instant classic. When At Last is a must-have album for anyone who loves the sound of a flat-picked acoustic guitar.
From CDinsight.com (also appeared on amazon.com and on the California Bluegrass Association website):
*****Russ Barenberg “When at Last”
Guitar textures & sound shapes make meaningful & merry musical statements, August 5, 2007
By J. Ross
Russ Barenberg's first solo album in about twenty years arrived in my mailbox for review shortly after seeing his DVD instruction called "A Flatpicker's Guide to Better Playing" (originally released/titled "Acoustic Guitar Musicianship" in 1989). From Pennsylvania and now Nashville, Russ is known as an eclectic guitarist familiar with bluegrass, jazz, folk, Cajun, Celtic, Caribbean and Latin elements. He emphasizes tone, timing, control, rhythm and improvisation for guitarists. As an album, "When At Last" reinforces Russ' big open guitar sound's textures and shapes that make concise yet meaningful and merry musical statements. With the exception of the closer, a traditional French folk song called "Aux Marches du Palais," Russ' 2007 set is comprised of original instrumentals that reinforce the importance of personalized musical expression. A superior guitarist, Russ demonstrates accomplished understanding of his fingerboard, dynamics, ornamentation, syncopation, vibrato, damping, pick direction, and much more.
Whether writing a lively contradance tune like "Fat Mountain," Celtic-tinged "Pleasant Beggar," old-timey "On Milo's Back," or the new acoustic title track, Russ' music speaks with many moods from playful to reflective. When I first heard the opening track, "Little Monk," I immediately thought that the lyrical melody line had a 1970ish vintage new acoustic sound reminiscent of Russ' monumental "Skip, Hop and Wobble" album with Edgar Meyer and Jerry Douglas. Sure enough, Flux is back on Dobro and the piece written back in those days has been reincarnated with the contemporary flavorings of Stuart Duncan (fiddle) and Viktor Krauss (bass). As ever, Duncan is especially noteworthy with his fluid bow work that also offers harmony lines periodically.
Barenberg's publishing company is very appropriately called Laughing Hands Music, and that joviality will keep you smiling and amused throughout this set. At one time after his stints with Country Cooking, Carried Away, Heartlands, and Fiddle Fever, Russ had an experimental group with Matt Glaser and Andy Statman called Laughing Hands. Plenty of the jollity on this disc is also the result of Ruthie Dornfield (fiddle), Kenny Malone (drums, percussion), Jeremiah McLane (piano, accordion), and Dennis Crouch (bass). From Vermont, McLane's embellishments are a very nice touch, and I hope to track down some music from his trio called Nightingale. They're all a fun bunch who work well together. I might have put Douglas' Dobro out there even more in the conversational mix of "The Man in the Hat," but that's a minor criticism. Barenberg's axes of choice include both vintage and newer guitars and mandolins spanning from 1918-2005. They cover a broad range, just like his music.
Russ' ideas have grown into some splendid natural melodies. Song notes acknowledge his son, daughter, friends and dogs for inspiration. Then there's even "On Milo's Back," a cheerful bluegrassy tune named for a friend's dog. Similar to the seminal volume of contradance tunes called "New England Chestnuts," Russ Barenberg gives us a set of very enjoyable Nashville chestnuts. Let's hope we don't have to wait another couple decades until his next solo album. (Joe Ross, Roseburg, OR.)
From Maverick Magazine (UK), November 2007
When At last
(Compass Records 4459)
Impeccable acoustic-based instrumental music from skilled players
Guitarist Russ Barenberg was heavily influenced by the styles of Doc Watson and Mississippi John Hurt before he reached his teens. Later, having heard Clarene White, he became something of a devotee to that innovative player. In 1970 he teamed up with Tony Trischka, Kenny Kisek and John Miller as part of Country Cooking, remaining with them for some four years during which time they released two albums. 1975 saw Barenburg spreading his wings when he played electric guitar in a jazz/rock band. A couple of years later, having moved to New York, he once again teamed up with Trischka and Miller along with fiddler, Matt Glaser as part of a fairly eclectic string quartet. Barenburg released his debut solo album, Country Calypso, in 1979, the same year that he moved to Boston and joined Matt Glaser and Jay Ungar in Fiddle Fever, recording, among other things, the memorable Ashokan Farewell which was used as the theme music for the outstanding TV series about the Civil War. His second solo album, Behind The Melodies was released in 1983 before he relocated to Nashville in 1986, joining a group which toured with Maura O’Connell. His third solo album, Moving Pictures, came out in 1988, the year that he formed a trio with Jerry Douglas and Edger Meyer, a trio which existed until 2001. With years of invaluable experience under his belt and a legion of prominent musicians whom he can genuinely regard as friends, Barenberg has now released his fourth, self produced album of ten original compositions plus one traditional number. Helping him out are Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Victor Krauss, Kenny Malone, Dennis Crouch, Ruthie Dornfeld and Jeremiah McLane, the type of aggregation which guarantees the very highest quality of musicianship.
A totally instrumental album, Barenberg is, naturally at the forefront throughout but without exception, every featured musician is given the opportunity to step into the spotlight at some point and the overall result is wholly satisfying. Barenberg has long proved himself to he a very ‘melodic’ composer, one who totally rejects the old adage, ‘Never mind the quality—feel the width!’, in the sense that he pays scant attention as to how many notes can be furiously picked per second, rather, focusing on the purity of the melodies. There is a pleasing variation in tempos ranging from the jaunty The Man In The Hat and Fat Mountain to the Celtic swirl of The Pleasant Beggar, which opens rather sedately before changing tempo mid-way making for most pleasant listening. When At Last is a slow, contemplative melody and there is a wonderful, dreamlike quality to the lulling A Dream For Sophie, specially composed for his young daughter. The Drummers Of England has a stately feel to it as indeed does the closing track, the only traditional number, Aux Marches du Palais, (On The Steps Of The Palace).
When At Last is a welcome guitar instrumental album featuring a notable player, helped out by a small group of highly respected musical friends and a clutch of original compositions which will doubtlessly have many aspiring guitarist endeavouring to master them in the months ahead.
From americana-UK.com 8/15/07:
Russ Barenberg “When at Last” (Compass 2007)
No fuss, no nonsense, just great music
Russ Barenberg appears to be one that breed of artists who goes about the business of making fine music quietly. There is no fuss or fanfare attached to When At Last but it delivers.
Although soaked to the skin in bluegrass, country and roots, When At Last isn't about how clever a musician Russ Barenberg is, it's about how good the music sounds and too many times the two are not synonymous.
Inspired by Doc Watson and Mississippi John Hurt - well if you're looking for role models, why not aim high? - Barenberg began playing the guitar at 13 and pretty much since then he's been a member of a succession of bands - including Fiddle Fever whose Ashokan Farewell formed the centrepiece of the epic documentary Civil War. The common thread in his musical life is that Russ Barenberg has always surrounded himself with like-minded musicians.
The upshot is that Russ Barenberg comes across as a serious musician and there is nothing in the least bit superficial about When At Last. While that may make it sound worthy and slightly dull, nothing could be further from the truth. The title track neatly encapsulates all that is good about the music. The love, care and affection lavished on the song makes it and the album a thing of rare beauty.
If Russ Barenberg were British, he'd immediately be pigeonholed as a folk musician and while The Pleasant Beggar could hardly be described as a foot stomper, it has the underlying wild freedom that characterises the spirit of Russ Barenberg. While he is clearly a master of his craft, When At Last rises above the artisan, it's foundations come from Barenberg's love of the honesty of music that has stood the test of time. Even if you hold a jaundiced view of folk/roots/country Russ Barenberg makes it truly accessible.
In the absence of lyrics, the instruments have to act as storyteller and in Man In The Hat they are eloquent, their ebb and flow firing the imagination.
Despite its origins, a sense of fun is never too far away, On Milo's Back and Redbird In The Willow/The Lakes Barenberg strays perilously close to rollicking, they're the kind of songs that round off an evening perfectly.
The attraction for 'non-folkies' is that When At Last is a completely natural album. There's no need to have been initiated in the dark secrets of folk, to appreciate it for what it is, supremely enjoyable.
Date review added: Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Reviewer: Michael Mee
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
*****Russ Barenberg, When At Last, 2007 (Compass Records)
Nashville-based bluegrass guitarist Russ Barenberg has just released his first solo record in nearly twenty years called When At Last. For those not familiar with Barenberg, he is, without a doubt, one of the finest acoustic guitarists in the world. As a member of the Transatlantic Sessions house band he has performed with countless bluegrass, country, and folk icons. When he's not overseas performing with other world-class Celtic and Bluegrass musicians, he hones his chops in Nashville as a member of a Bluegrass trio that includes Edgar Meyer and Jerry Douglas.
Indeed, Jerry Douglas and a handful of other Nashville bluegrass pillars leave more than their mark on When At Last. But although the record has an ensemble sound, the record is virtually all Barenberg. Not only were ten of the eleven tracks written by Barenberg, he also took on production responsibilities. The result—Russ Barenberg has created (in the fullest sense of the word) an enchanting blend of American and Irish hill-country music—a quintessential transatlantic session, and a modern classic for all those who love an "Irishy" bluegrass sound driven by beautiful melodies.
Although the songs on When At Last are clearly influenced by traditional forms of Bluegrass and Celtic music, there is an appealing contemporary feel to many of the songs reminiscent of Nickel Creek's self-titled Sugar Hill debut, sans vocals. The absence of vocals, however, allows Barenberg to do what he does best—provide lyrical acoustic solos that (performed mostly on 40's era Gibson J-45's) simultaneously evoke old and new while lifting the songs from the garden into the heavens. Indeed, Barenberg's guitar playing on When At Last is fluid, precise, and in the case of "A Dream for Sophie," magical. Fans of outstanding music should not hesitate to purchase When At Last. When you do, take one of your favorite long drives through the country while you listen, and enjoy.
— Vincent Wynne www.listennashville.com
Russ Barenberg "When At Last "– 2007 (Compass)
Russ Barenberg's name belongs at or near the top of the list of great guitar pickers of the last generation, alongside Tony Rice, Doc Watson, Bryan Sutton and others. His name may not be a household one, but there is no doubt about his musical abilities. He was part of the 'super-picking' trio with Jerry Douglas (Dobro) and Edgar Meyer (bass) that produced the classic 'Skip, Hop and Wobble' record a few years back, but this is his first solo album in many years.
Here, he teams up with another team of stellar pickers, including Douglas, fiddlers Ruthie Dornfeld and Stuart Duncan, bassists Viktor Krauss and Dennis Crouch on 10 originals, including the Celticy "The Pleasant Beggar" and the bluegrassy "Redbird In The Willow/The Lakes" and "On Milo's Back." He ends with a wonderful rendition of an old French folk song, "On The Steps Of The Palace."
Instrumental records are often hard to review because the music doesn't fit easily into any usual category. Though Russ Barenberg's music tends not to fit under a familiar label, it is it's very enjoyable from start to finish, with melodies and instrumentation that 'go down easy.
Reviewed by George Hauenstein
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