After years of earning respect from peers and audiences for playing behind better-known artists, noted mandolinist/guitarist Tom Corbett stepped into the spotlight as bandleader and songwriter with his warmly received 2001 solo album Upstairs at Charlie’s. Now, with his second album, Cloudless Blue Sky, he’s further establishing himself as one of the most versatile acoustic artists on the West Coast Americana scene.
Cloudless Blue Sky declares its distinctions right from the cover, with a sterling list of folk, rock, blues and bluegrass pickers and singers, including first-call players such as multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Victor Bisetti, harmony master Herb Pedersen and critics’ darlings Robin & Linda Williams. Together with former Desert Rose Band bassist Bill Bryson, harmonicat Tom Ball, singer Jonathan McEuen, bassist Randy Tico, fiddler Phil Salazar, and banjoist Bill Knopf and guitarist David Ferguson from Corbett’s live-show trio, they weave a dynamic musical tapestry with Corbett as he plays in familiar fields of folk, acoustic swing and bluegrass. Longtime fans may be surprised to hear him also venture into blues and reggae. Those only familiar with his good-humored onstage persona will be even more surprised to hear the sober “Hello Dad,” a deeply personal ballad he wrote following his father’s death.
Against a backdrop of guitars and hidalguera, Weissenborn, fiddles, mandolin, Dobro, accordion, banjo, harmonica, congas and other percussion, he explores reggae (“Island Calypso”), blues (“Something ’Bout the Blues”), mountain music (Joe Stuart and Mitch Jaynes’ “The Whole World ’Round”) and more familiar bluegrassy-folk. Throughout, he indulges his generous sense of humor, particularly on upbeat numbers like “When I Get My Wheels,” the requinto-flavored “Raging Bull” and Scott Foxx’s goofy “Fishin’.” He also quietly shows off his dexterous command of guitar and tenor banjo as well as his beloved mandolin on the instrumental “Mary’s Kissin’ the Quaker.” It all adds up to an enjoyably eclectic musical experience that’s a fine reflection of the players, especially Corbett himself.