Thursday, November 27, 2014

CD Review - John Mailander - WALKING DISTANCE

Image635526907793383279For me, one of the more selfish reasons of going to a bluegrass festival, either as a paid performer or spectator, is the prospect of getting into a good after hours jam. Those prospects are akin to a company picnic raffle. Sometimes you get squat. Sometimes you win a crummy frisbee with the company logo on it. But, once in a while you get lucky and go home with a new TV or  barbeque grill.

On an August weekend in 2011 at Vista California's Summergrass Bluegrass Festival my selfishness paid off.  A small impromptu jam erupted under the dim lights of the snack bar canopy. It began as most jams begin. Old Blue Sound tech Alvin Blaine and I were noodling around on guitar and banjo. Sawmill Road was performing that weekend and lucky for us mandolinist Mark Miracle showed up to pick a few.

You see, the idea of a good jam is to start low key. Send some vibes out across the parking lot and campsites and see what you can stir up. Hopefully other like minded pickers will migrate to the acoustic mating call.  Southern California bass player Given Harrison did just that and showed up as if summoned by an unseen power. Soon the jam was on.

What could be better? A Friday night jam on an August night 15 miles off the coast of southern California with seasoned musicians that knew the bluegrass ropes. As the night wears on, Jam participants come and go. They'll stick around for a tune or two then move on. Standing about 15 feet away from the core of the Jam were two young guys. One with a mandolin and the other with a fiddle. I strained my ears to hear cool little fills and chops they were sending our way ( fyi...the “core” is wherever the banjo is). The more comfy we got the closer they moved in. They handled everything we played, in any key, at any speed and with a finesse and tone not often heard in such a setting. That Image635526915138406136fiddle player was John Mailander. Though new to me, I later found that John was a product of the local California music scene.

This jam continued to get better and better. These two young men reminded me of 70's versions of David Grisman and Darol Anger. I don't recall John's buddy Matt Witler ever saying a word. He let his mandolin do all the talking. We broke a bluegrass rule and cut down on Grisman's  “E.M.D.” ( Eat my Dust ). This is when my mind was slowly but surely blown away by the improvisation, drive, tone, taste and timing of John and Matt. It was as if we had been rehearsing arrangements for months. Trading leads with a glance and modulating dynamics and tempos with a  nod of the head. I looked around a few times to see the crowd around this jam steadily grow.

This band, under the lights of the snack bar, could have played on stage at this festival and sold enough CDs and T-shirts to justify quitting a decent day job. And on Saturday night, we did it again.

As Ron Thomason says...I told you that so I could tell you this. John Mailander has recently released a recorded project of his own entitled Walking Distance. I'm kinda jazzed about this because now I don't have to try to explain the musicianship of John Mailander. Slide his new CD in the player ( or the downloaded version) and you will hear why I have difficulty putting his abilities into words.

John has recently graduated from the Berklee School of Music in Boston, a long way from San Diego, California where he grew up and quickly became a local phenom. Attending a music school 2000 miles east proved beneficial for John as well as his new-found musical contemporaries. Rubbing elbows with and learning from the previously mentioned Darol Anger. This recording is the evidence of a well made decision.

Intended or not, I am certain that Walking Distance is taking us on an abbreviated tour of John Mailander's musical influences and tastes. There is a fairly wide spectrum of music in the eight cuts on this CD, and though the center point in unmistakably bluegrass, there is no one track that can be pointed to and specifically labeled as such. It is a wonderful compilation of acoustic based intricacies. If you like Bluegrass, if you like Old-Timey, if you like Dawg music you will like what John has picked out for you.

On this CD we hear banjo wizard Tony Trishka who is rarely seen but often heard on my side of the country. Molly Tuttle, also a Breklee-ite, simply amazes with her lead guitar work and provides the project's lone vocals with an eloquent rendition of John Hartford's “Gentle on My Mind”. Fellow Berklee graduates Lucas Poole and Alison de Groot step in on claw-hammer banjo. Splitting mandolin duties are Jake Joliff and Joe Walsh. Walsh, a former student, now teaches at Berklee. Britanny Karlson handles the bass. Mailander does double duty on fiddle and octave mandolin on “Inverness”.  

Wanna hear good musicians push the envelope of improvisation? Listen to “Hayduke”. What you hear is total control of a musical landscape. You get hung out over the ragged edge of an abyss only to be brought back to the safety of 2/4 time. I love music that I can hear as well as feel.

“Walking Distance” is an inspired confluence of  music and musicians. John Mailander's respect for the capability and sanctity of acoustic instruments is well presented.  A respect that is getting harder and harder to find.


Follow John at

Reviewed for Prescription Bluegrass by Marty Warburton /

1 comment:

  1. I've probably listened to this album 20 or 30 times in the last 3 weeks since I first heard it...every time I plugged my phone into my stereo/car/other stereo and it came on I just couldn't bring myself to put something else on! I like how this album sort of has two different personas, with the progressive/bluegrass on the first half and more traditional on the second.

    If you haven't listened to John's EP with Molly Tuttle, that's well worth a listen, too. Not so much original material on there, but every bit as well done as this album.

    WARNING! This album may have serious side effects for college students who play acoustic music but are not studying music, including but not limited to separation anxiety from your instrument while in class or studying. These side effects may be worsened by walking past Berklee every day on your commute. Listen with extreme caution if you have any of these conditions.


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