Rudi Eckstein’s Splendid Showcase
Rudi Ekstein has been in the music business for many years as a performer, producer and studio owner. His latest recording is Carolina Chimes: Rudi Ekstein’s All Original Bluegrass Instrumental Showcase, which was released this October via his own Foxfire Recording.
It’s a weighty title to be sure. As someone new to this artist, it became apparent immediately that Ekstein’s mandolin powers are substantial and the result here, on twelve original instrumentals featuring an all-star, world-class cast, is heady. The players brought into the studio for this project include multi-Grammy and IBMA Award winner Stuart Duncan (fiddle), renowned guitarist Jeff Autry , two-time IBMA Bass Player of the Year Mark Schatz, long-time collaborator John Plotnik (banjo and dobro) and Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist Patrick Sauber (banjo).
It’s buoyant, frenetic at times in pace (but not showy) and there’s an air of generous collaboration as Ekstein provides his guests with plenty of space to unfurl their skill. Twelve tracks with no vocals may not be to everyone’s taste, but this collection reminds you of how good bluegrass can be when flair is combined with perfect collusion and delicate force.
“The most obvious parts of everyone’s life have been depicted in a bluegrass song,” says Ekstein. “The bluegrass tunes I’ve written for my records over the past 30 or so years are mostly named after people, events, or something important that happened in my life. That’s just part of my love for bluegrass.”
Many of the tunes on Carolina Chimes reflect Ekstein’s travels, from his early years living in California and exploring the American West, to settling down about a decade ago in the western North Carolina mountain town of Asheville. He started in 1990 the Foxfire Recording Studio, so he could play more bluegrass with western North Carolina roots musician Billy Constable, to whom this album is dedicated. Constable, who passed away in 2015 of cancer, was best known for his three-finger-picking banjo technique and his vigorous acoustic guitar leads.
Ekstein has produced and/or engineered numerous albums for record labels such as CMH, Rounder and Sugar Hill. He also has played for artists like Tony Rice, Chris Hillman, Josh Graves, David Grisman, Richard Greene, Bill Keith, David Grier, Herb Pedersen and Bill Bryson. His array of recording and live performance credits include many internationally known bluegrass musicians Byron Berline, Gabe Witcher, John Hickman, Dennis Caplinger, Craig Smith, Rob Ickes and Bryson.
Here’s a sound clip of one of the tracks, “Spikebuck”