Album Review of
Grit & Polish

Written by Joe Ross
May 30, 2021 - 1:34am EDT
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The seed for this eclectic duo set of Americana material was planted when Mark Schatz and Bryan McDowell started working up a show in early 2020 for festivals, small venues, and a Canadian tour. The two had developed a musical rapport while touring with The Claire Lynch Band, and Grit & Polish is a result of their most fruitful collaboration. Both musicians are very accomplished multi-instrumentalists who also sing. Claire Lynch adds a beautiful vocal harmony on Schatz’s self-penned “My East Tennessee Home.” Schatz and McDowell convey plenty of snappy old-timey spirit on clawhammer banjo and fiddle numbers like “Kensington Station” and “First Snow of December / Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss.” Besides being an award-winning bassist, Schatz also adds flavorings of fancy footwork, hambone, jaw harp and guitar.

McDowell’s contest-winning fiddle is heard in numbers like “Waltz You Saved for Me / Liza Po’ Gal / Acorn Hill Breakdown,” as well as pieces like “Papirosen / Maiden’s Prayer,” a medley that begins with the Eastern European tune bowed on bass (and plucked on fiddle) before the two master musicians take part in twin fiddling a much-loved standard. Besides fiddle, McDowell holds national championships in guitar and mandolin, and a medley of “Gardenia Waltz / Flop-Eared Mule” demonstrates why. Other tracks present rollicking traditional songs (“Muskrat,” “Italy,” “The Girl I Love Don’t Pay Me No Mind”), original ballads (“Cruso Flood,” “West Virginia Reverie”), and even excursions into swinging jazzy territory (“There Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”) and a Bob Dylan cover (“One Too Many Mornings”).  

Recorded mostly live with few overdubs, each track has its own quaintness whether the guys are sawing, plucking, frailing, clogging, or wailing. Bright, breezy music resonates with an authenticity of our deepest musical traditions. While it conveys images of yesteryear, it’s also larger than that. The duo makes a strong statement about their dedication and conviction to tastefully rendered down-home mountain music and its future. The varied repertoire on Grit & Polish is only a small sampling of the duo’s artistic expression that also pays tribute to their teachers, mentors, family, friends and other seminal influences that have made them what they are today. Schatz and McDowell speak the same musical language and are a joy to hear together. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)