There are some people who make music out there that is completely beyond me. I don’t mean I don’t understand the music, I just have a hard time grasping how incredibly talented that person is and how they are able to slip themselves into any genre really, and excel so well at playing within that space. John Mailander is one of those people. I have the opportunity to make music with many, many people through sitting in and my monthly residency gig. And there is no purposeful slight made in this comment to anyone else, but in playing with John even just a few times, he sits somewhere above where most folks minds are when making music. His mind and feel for it is just different, always one step ahead. Which is funny, because based on his personality you would never know it. A kind, generous and grounded person and musician. His debut solo “Walking Distance” record is a certain indicator of that and his wonderful musicianship.
The first track and record’s name sake is anything but a walking pace. With its primary focus on the soar and flight of the fiddle, the breaks from the other instruments (guitar, banjo, mandolin) are the definition of bluegrass finesse. Most instrumentals out there are on the two and a half minute side, but lucky for our ears this guy stretches out to nearly double that, with a weaving up and down and back and forth feel to the song. The break that brings it down is wonderful. So much feeling in a song without words, almost telling a story. I am in awe of people who can do that with music. His personality, his kindness and how understated but powerful of player he is rings out in this track. It’s a true gift that John and his players exemplify on this song.
“Gentle on my Mind” ala John Hartford (the reason I got into bluegrass music) gets vocal treatment from Molly Tuttle. Gorgeous and sweet sounds spring forth not just from her voice, but the mandolin on this track absolutely slays me and lays my body down gently. So great.
“Hayduke” has me dancing in my office chair. This is the kind of bluegrass that the crowd goes nuts for.
“Song for John” is a tribute to Mailander’s Berklee professor John McGann. It’s a powerful track. A really powerful track, again hitting on John’s ability to communicate an emotion and a feeling through his arrangements. A slow waltz that may come across as a somber kind of a dance, but there is a light in the arrangement, a hope and appreciation that builds. A reflection of something good that makes its way through the song.
There is a varying degree of emotion to the songs on this collection. Some barn burners and some more pensive and gentle songs. I think that works remarkably well for this 8 track collection of Mailander’s. It really has something for everyone, even if you aren’t a fan of bluegrass the take on the style here is very approachable and mellowed. Again, the way that John’s character shines through in these songs is astonishing. He really pours himself into the songs and his personality comes out in the arrangements and the music. I think what truly shines is the collaborative effort in this record. The release was self proclaimed as “a celebration of John’s time spent and musical friends made in Boston over the past five years.” With all of the guests and the sharing of breaks, the chemistry of the players that really pours out of the songs, the emotion that is revealed. All of this really makes that “community” theme hit home for this record, and it’s a grandslam.
A diverse, delightful and fun debut from this truly gifted musician. I cannot wait to see what else comes along in his future.