On her solo debut, Fiddler’s Pastime, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, fiddler for modern bluegrassers Mile Twelve, flexes both her fiddling and songwriting muscles. Original songs like “Open Water” and “Hendersonville Hop” pair seamlessly with “The Minstrel Boy” and John Hartford’s “Natchez Whistle.” Fiddler’s Pastime is agile and lighthearted, bursting with energy from a composer who is confident in her technical skill and musical voice.
The traditional songs on Fiddler’s Pastime are performed with feeling and grace, thanks in part to a murderer’s row of collaborators: Tim O’Brien performs a new melody he composed for Thomas Moore’s poem, “The Minstrel Boy,” while Sarah Jarosz soars with Keith-Hynes’ fiddle on Peter Rowan’s “Last Train.” Chris Eldridge delivers a haunting rendition of “Natchez Whistle,” while James Kee delivers leads the way on “Hello Trouble” (Orville Couch & Eddie McDuff) and “I Don’t Know Why” (Alton Delmore), with O’Brien making harmonious magic on both tracks.
“The Minstrel Boy” stands out as a poignant song with an ominous warning of the tragedies of war — hopefully one that is not prescient. Keith-Hynes’ fiddle gives O’Brien’s delicate melody an indomitable strength. While death may be an all-too-certain part of life, protesting against those who care little for our lives is equally timeless.
On her original compositions, Keith-Hynes approaches her material with maturity and grace. Keith-Hynes’ solo in “Michelle’s Waltz” is lyrical and sensitive, all while generously featuring the other players’ strengths. “Open Water,” featuring IBMA Award-winner Sierra Hull on mandolin, is an athletic, muscular piece that is bound to leave listeners members sweaty with exertion from dancing along.
Overall, the album feels wistful, melancholy, and optimistic for the future. Like all great bluegrass albums, Fiddler’s Pastime embraces tradition, calls to the future, and leaves room for some musical pyrotechnics.