Violinist Darol Anger and mandolinist Mike Marshall have worked together on a variety of projects for more than two decades, in ensembles ranging from the jazz group Montreux to the cutting-edge folk combo NewGrange. The veteran stringmasters' newest ensemble debuts with gusto on Brand New Can. The album kicks off in fine style with the appropriately titled "Coal Burnin' Grease Fire," a blazing bluegrass-flavored romp that finds Anger, Marshall, bass player Derek Jones, and drummer Aaron Johnston trading hot licks and hair-trigger improvisations while parrying with guest banjoist Alison Brown. The quartet moves into slower time with the jazzy "Around Here" and the reflective "Tuesdays at 7:30," and incorporates a world-music flavor with "Zakir."
Violinist Darol Anger and mandolinist/guitarist Mike Marshall are mainstays of the "new acoustic music" genre associated with players such as David Grisman and Béla Fleck. Joined on this record by bassist Derek Jones and drummer Aaron Johnston, Anger and Marshall serve up ten original compositions that bristle with technical complexity and stylistic diversity. Any devotee of rhythmically involved, high-energy fusion music will warm to the Anger/Marshall Band's sound, but the average listener might find some of their work inaccessible, especially pieces like "Zakir" and "Emu's Blues." On the other hand, "Our Life" and "Brooksboro Terrace" are a bit banal. Bridging the worlds of jazz and funk, hot bluegrass, Celtic and Arabic folk, and Americana, the group still manages to forge a coherent identity, primarily by infusing every track with exceptional musicianship. Anger's "Around Here" stands out as one of the best tracks, as does Marshall's "Goodnight Manatee," which finds Derek Jones playing a low-pitched guitar called the celloguitar. "Tuesdays at 7:30," this time with Marshall on celloguitar, features the album's most ambitious, jazz-inflected harmonies. Marshall also does some fiery flatpicking on "The Fall," and his mandolin solo on the first track, "Coal Burnin' Grease Fire," is an album highlight. Guest artist Alison Brown contributes excellent banjo playing to the opener as well, and John R. Burr plays Hammond B-3 organ on seven of the songs. There's also a nifty hidden track at the very end of the program.