Personnel: Forrest O'Connor (vocals, mandolin, background vocals); Kate Lee (vocals, violin, fiddle, background vocals); Joe Smart (guitar, background vocals); Geoff Saunders (banjo, double bass, background vocals); Maggie O'Connor (violin, fiddle, background vocals); Gregg Field (percussion).
Recording information: House of Blues, Nashville.
Photographer: John David Pittman.
If there's a gold standard for fiddling in American music, it's Mark O'Connor, an artist who has earned his stripes as one of the finest instrumentalists in bluegrass, country, jazz, and classical. Given how far he's pushed the boundaries of his music and his instrument, it's just a bit surprising that he's opted to dip his toes into one of the most traditional formats in bluegrass, the family band, but you can't argue much with the results. Released in 2016, Coming Home is the first album from the O'Connor Band, which along with Mark features his wife Maggie O'Connor on violin, his son Forrest O'Connor on mandolin and vocals, and his daughter-in-law Kate Lee on violin and vocals. (Friends of the family Joe Smart on guitar and Geoff Saunders on bass fill out the arrangements.) While three fiddlers might seem like overkill, this group manages to merge them seamlessly, sounding like a tiny orchestra on "Fishers Hornpipe," weaving gracefully through the title track, and bringing their voices together in sweet sorrow on "Fiddler Going Home." The guitar and mandolin lend the melodies a fine rhythmic counterpoint, and the group's harmonies are excellent. Mark O'Connor is clearly the star of this show, but his bandmates are more than capable, and Forrest O'Connor and Kate Lee are fine lead vocalists who season the group's instrumental blend with impressive skill. While some of Lee's songwriting leans a bit hard on pop-country tropes, the musicians more than compensate, and the material moves back and forth between traditionalism and contemporary bluegrass styles with easy authority. Coming Home is a splendid set of modern-day bluegrass with deep Appalachian soul, and proof that there's a lot of talent in the O'Connor household besides the guy with the hat. ~ Mark Deming