Danny Roberts: Media Love
The Grascals’ mandolin ace Danny Roberts has traveled the world enjoying a wealth of musical experiences in bluegrass, but this 4th of July weekend he soaked in a couple of moments that were extra special to him at the 45th Annual Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree and Crafts Festival.
First, the two-time SPBGMA Mandolin Performer of the Year was honored with the Blue Blaze Award for “actively cultivating a love of bluegrass music.” Sierra Hull and Darrin Vincent are the past recipients.
Nighthawk highlights Danny’s creative side with ten new tunes for mandolin, and his extra talented family, wife Andrea and daughter Jaelee. Both are fine vocalists, with Andrea having established her bona fides working with bands like Petticoat Junction and Special Consensus, and young Jaelee just now starting to receive the attention she deserves. … The primary focus of Nighthawk is on Danny and his smooth, modern mandolin style.
He is a true artist who continually strives for excellence and seeks new discoveries. His second solo project, Nighthawk (Mountain Home), spotlights a seasoned and innovative player in his prime.
For the past decade or so, Danny Roberts has been well-known to bluegrass fans as the mandolin player for (and a founding member of) The Grascals, unquestionably one of the most successful bluegrass bands on the planet. That alone should establish his instrumental creds, and since he leaves the singing for the most part to his band mates, it would be a pretty good guess that his second solo effort, “Nighthawk” would be primarily an instrumental affair. Correct so far. However, given that bluegrass often tends to be a family affair, it should be no surprise that the cuts on the album featuring vocals would include his wife Andrea Roberts, who has a pretty solid resume of her own singing with high-profile bands like Special Consensus.
However, in the “chip off the old block” scheme of things (and with all due respect to Andrea, in this case she’s in the role of the “old block”), the star is their 12-year-old daughter Jaelee who steals the show on “Oh, Atlanta,” the Mick Ralphs/Bad Company tune of years gone by that helped catapult Alison Krauss to stardom when she covered it in the mid-1990s. The kid flat out nails it, and in his role as producer, dad wisely pares down the arrangement to his mandolin, Tim Surrett’s bass and Tony Wray’s guitar, not unlike Krauss’ arrangement. It’s a keeper.
Ten years ago, I reviewed Danny Roberts’ first solo recording, Mandolin Orchard, giving it solid marks. Now comes Nighthawk, a step up all across the board. Begin with the sound quality improvements. If you remember his first, you’ll notice this immediately. This is much clearer, much more sonically pleasing. …
While his first recording had solid originals, varied in style and certainly well-played, they rarely approached in interest or tunefulness the album’s lone cover, “Bonaparte’s Retreat.” Here, that has been largely corrected, beginning with the Monroe-sounding, bluesy stomp of “New Gil Ramble,” featuring a sparkling triplet-laced solo from Ronnie McCoury. Also Monroe-influenced, albeit tempered with some modern rhythmic punctuations, is “Nighthawk,” which includes some ear-catching note slides from Roberts and the expert mandolin and sinuous fiddle of Sam Bush. Then comes the ultra-fast “Big Stone Gap” in the breakdown tradition and later the Celtic Reel and bounce of “Coppinger’s Court” and, later still, a bluesy stroll with guest Mike Compton on “Walking To Winslow.” Woven among them are the antique/jazzy blending of “F-5 Rag,” the light mandolin/banjo duet of “Danielle’s Waltz,” the rip and twist of both “You’ll Have That” and “Derrington Drive,” and the surprisingly-noted melody of my favorite, “Swing-A-Long.” Not a one will fail to intrigue or impress or, for that matter, surprise.