Album Review of
Solo Swing

Written by Joe Ross
November 6, 2014 - 12:00am EST
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Recorded live in studio, Brian Oberlin’s “Solo Swing” is truly a delight that presents a type of music that’s dear to his heart. Years ago, Oberlin might have cut his teeth on bluegrass when he was first learning mandolin, but here he draws inspiration from the great swing music of the 1920s-40s and related genres (e.g. Broadway show tunes) or regional variants (e.g. cowboy, western swing). Why, he even covers Merle Haggard’s “Pretty When It’s New” and Jesse Fuller’s “San Francisco Bay Blues”!

One might initially think that this music would need a full ensemble to be presented accurately, but what is proper? One listen to Oberlin’s versions of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “I Found a Four-Leaf Clover” will get you to admit that this master mandolinist who also sings does a wonderfully fine job of putting a new, fresh face on these classics. I’ve previously reviewed and appreciated Oberlin’s albums with the swinging trio called “Ida Viper,” and his “Solo Swing” album is a special project for those who especially like a leaner sound emphasizing just mandolin and vocals. One minor thing I found a little distracting was the high amount of reverberation used in the album’s closer, “Gridiron Heroes (Stadium Version).”                     

Oberlin always plays his mandolin with great skill, accuracy, tone and clarity.  He’s got the chops of seminal players like Jethro Burns, and Oberlin similarly demonstrates a high degree of virtuosity. At the same time, he sings and plays with the same kind of excitement that a contemporary artist like Tim O’Brien does. We hear Brian’s own personality front-and-center on his original driving composition “Carbondale,” or with his take on “Sally Goodin’” that includes a minor key interlude.

Oberlin’s melodic statements are sweet and tasteful, his chordal accompaniment is percussive and rhythmic, and his vocals are confident and passionate. An old tune like “Nola” (dating to 1915) is always a crowd favorite, and Oberlin’s instrumental version is very pleasing. For those who know Nola, “There’s a magic charm about her. She’s divine, and she’s mine.” One might say the same about Brian Oberlin’s solo swing music. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)