Welcome to the world of The Ramblin’ Fiddler. Fiddle virtuoso Jason Barie has released music under the moniker since 2019 when The Ramblin’ Fiddler released his debut album Pieces. The enthusiastic reception that the collection received has emboldened him to record again under the moniker and the results are the new album Radioactive. The twelve track collection is a bluegrass masterclass utilizing some of the genre’s biggest names as guest stars to help realize his vision. Barie’s rambunctious yet lyrical playing leads the way, however, and the superb cross-section of material he has chosen for the release comes across as tailor-made for his prodigious talents.

URL: https://jasonbarie.com/

The mix of songs with vocals and instrumentals never sounds out of balance. Opening the collection with “Calaveras County”, an instrumental track, may seem like a bold move, but it underlines the fact that Barie is a musician first and foremost rather than a storyteller. A solid argument can be made that he’s tailored Radioactive, consciously or not, as a purist affair that will appeal to musicians above all others. A closer listen to this song and its successors, however, reveals music that would be great for parties, family gatherings, and even a quiet evening at home.

Don’t assume these songs are harmless or bloodless. “Caravales County” has an assertive surge carrying listeners from the first note to the last. The first vocal song “That’s Why You Left Me So Blue” dives deep into the heartache often at the center of the greatest bluegrass songs. Guest performers Doyle Lawson and Bobby Osborne strike a perfect balance between emotion and restraint that plays on the listener’s heartstrings without ever hitting an overwrought note.

“In the Garden” is as solidly bluegrass as songs come. This gospel track, its composition dating back to the early years of the 20th century, still returns the capacity to lift the human spirit over a century later. Recasting it as an instrumental and foregoing its lyrics may raise the eyebrows of some bluegrass aficionados, but such listeners should give it a chance. It is one of the album’s most moving moments.

“I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name” is another song recast as a bluegrass track. The original version is classic country to its core and numerous artists can boast involving covers of the track over the decades. Barie’s take on this country music standard effortlessly surrounds it with bluegrass trappings that sound convincing rather than forced. “I Wish I Loved Somebody Else Not You” is another winner waxing melancholy about heartbreak without sinking under the weight of too many cliches. Its success hinges on Barie’s easy way with melody and spotless harmony vocals.

There is not a weak track present on this album. Jason Barie’s Radioactive is an adoring and skilled reminder of the bluegrass genre’s enduring power and benefits from warm production values that frame these songs in the best possible light. Even those who are unfamiliar with the style’s trappings will find much to love and admire about this release.

Garth Thomas