Andy Leftwich’s The American Fiddler puts his instrumental prowess in the spotlight

Article Contributed by Mountain Home … | Published on Saturday, October 29, 2022

He may be one of the most recorded fiddle players of the 21st century, but Mountain Home Music Company recording artist Andy Leftwich qualifies as a musician’s musician — widely admired by his peers and colleagues, yet still one of the best-kept secrets in and around the world of bluegrass music. With a list of credits that goes on for pages — he’s recorded for everyone from superstars like Taylor Swift and Alan Jackson to bluegrass stalwarts such as Dailey & Vincent, Larry Cordle and his long-time boss, Ricky Skaggs, to a miscellany of surprise hosts like Keb’ Mo’ — Leftwich’s catalog as a featured artist has, up until now, been sparse.

That begins to change with the release of The American Fiddler, a jaw-dropping collection of mostly original tunes that makes a compelling case for Leftwich as not only among the very best fiddlers playing today, but one of the very best mandolin players, too.

The album is out now on all streaming platforms, and one song — "Made In France" — is in Dolby Atmos spatial audio on Apple Music, Amazon Music and TIDAL and has been added to Mountain Home's Immersed In Bluegrass playlist on Apple Music.

From its opening (and title) track, which finds him deftly incorporating strands of bluegrass and Irish music, to the blend of old-time string band and new acoustic music in the closing “Through The East Gate,” the set rings a dozen changes on instrumental music that encompass a wide variety of moods and styles while flowing from a singularly unified creative vision. Says Leftwich, referring to the title track as an emblem for the overarching idea:

“Influenced by Irish and bluegrass fiddling, I wanted to write a piece of music that showcased both styles. The melody reminds me of the great instrumentals Ricky Skaggs has written over the years, so I couldn’t imagine recording this without him. There is so much heart and spirit behind each note that Ricky plays and it inspires me greatly! Thanks to my friend, Fionan Debarra (RUNA, Keith and Kristyn Getty) for the help on this arrangement. This song exemplifies what this entire project is all about, so I thought it was fitting for this to be the title cut.”

Joining Leftwich in pursuit of this musically sophisticated, yet deeply rooted goal is a stellar cast of musicians, each notable for their own contributions to new acoustic music and bluegrass. A non-exhaustive list begins with stalwarts Byron House and Mark Schatz on bass (the latter also contributes clawhammer banjo and dancing feet!), along with long-time friend and colleague Cody Kilby (Travelin’ McCourys) on guitar, and extends through notables like award-winning banjo player Scott Vestal and dobro player (and Three Ring Circle bandmate) Rob Ickes to mandolin great Sierra Hull — she and Leftwich dish up a blistering dual mandolin version of Bill Monroe’s “Big Mon” — and former employer and inspiration Ricky Skaggs. There’s even a searing version of “Sally Goodin,” one of the most widely traveled measures of a fiddler’s skill, recorded live with a crackerjack lineup of Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder toward the end of Leftwich’s long tenure with the group.

Intertwining echoes of Irish, bluegrass, old-time and even classical music into his originals, Leftwich claims a place among the foremost practitioners of modern, forward-facing yet traditionally-based string music. Whether it’s the contemporary mandolin arpeggios. that punctuate “Over Cincinnati”; the spiky racing melody of “Pikes Peak Breakdown”; the dreamily contemplative “Back to the Garden” or the alternating new old-time modal and Celtic flavors of “Kimper County,” these are rich compositions that, while they carry echoes of better-known colleagues’ work, bear his own and unmistakable stamp.  Even his recap of the centuries-old “Liberty,” a tune he used to play in contests as a youngster, gets an unexpected and delightful twist by the time it’s through.

“The songs on this album represent some of my favorite styles of fiddling that have been passed down from Scottish, Irish and Appalachian heritages,” says Leftwich. “The generations of fiddlers before me and the many talented musicians I’ve met along the way have all taught me something I could incorporate into my own playing, composing and arranging. My hope is that this album honors those influences and embodies all of the diverse elements that come together to make up The American Fiddler.”

Listen to The American Fiddler HERE.