Album Review of
Live Duets

Written by Joe Ross
April 10, 2014 - 12:00am EDT
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With Mike Marshall in the left speaker, and Chris Thile in the right, "Live Duets" captures two virtuoso mandolin masters at work. After the opening cut of their composition, "Shoulda Seen It Comin'," we can hear one of the players comment, "We're gonna have fun tonight!" And that is no doubt why this record was made … for us to enjoy the fun and energy of their 16 strings in consummate performance. After the second cut, Mike says, "This is fun!" Based on their power and strength, the dynamic duo could very well be two super heroes in disguise. This sequel to their successful collaborative effort, "Into the Cauldron," takes us into some similarly adventurous territory. To these guys, Mandoville has no city limits. Four cuts feature one of the guys playing mandocello, and one of those (Thile's "Hualalai") actually has Marshall on both mandola and mandocello. Tracklist for the 53-minute album includes: Shoulda Seen it Comin', Byron's, Carpathian Mt. Breakdown, I'd Go Back if I Could, The Only Way Out, Hualalai, J.S. Bach Dm Gigue (from solo Violin Partita #2), Joy Ride in a Toy Car/Hey Ho, 'Til Dawn, Sedi Donka, Tanja

There are a couple ways to tune into the music of this indefatigable duet. One is to listen very intently to appreciate the sensational musical telepathy and groove happening between the two. Mandolin players might want to follow this course. Another approach is to merely relax and let the notes and rhythms casually weave their way through a Zen-like atmosphere in search of truth and understanding. To me the players' minds seem clear of all limitations as they strive for oneness in their music. They realize that there's really only one way that they can collaboratively succeed - and that is along a musical path that is straight, open, wide, and free of obstructions. A traditional Bulgarian tune, "Sedi Donka," begins with Thile demonstrating the complicated rhythm to the audience ... long, short, short, long, short, short, short, short, long, short, short. The song's genesis includes aqueous improvisation and tremolo built around the tune's unique melody.

Through invisible, their sound does have much color like a kaleidoscope. Marshall and Thile use their instruments in much the same way that Monet and Piccasso used paintbrushes. The juxtaposition of one's notes with the other's creates each piece's coloring. Notice how their sonic colors work together to produce feelings. I was very happy to see a delicate piece like Marshall's 2-minute "'Til Dawn" breathe some slower air into the overall set. With high musical intellect, good ears, and considerable sensitivity, the duo works well together to create nuance and significant emotional content. Check out their musical canvas to discover the special quality of their sound. As with most live albums, applause between songs can be a little annoying. (Joe Ross)