Album Review: Michael Cleveland, ‘Lovin’ of the Game’

Super fiddler Michael Cleveland’s new album, Lovin’ of the Game, has the perfect title, for every song and tune here overflows with musical collaborators chasing every note with exuberance and the love of playing.

Cleveland himself leads the charge, perpetually innovating from traditional musical forms, finding the spaces between notes that reveal new musical directions. He and his collaborators—he’s joined on the album by Béla Fleck, Billy Strings, Charlie Starr, Jeff White, The Travelin’ McCourys, and Vince Gill, among others—drive around the hairpin turns of scampering tunes and hold the wheel steady on aching country ballads.

Cleveland’s supercharged fiddling launches the album into the stratosphere on the opening track, the traditional tune “Thousand Dollar Holler.” Jasiah Strode’s banjo strums and rolls and Nathan Livers’ mandolin runs weave around and under Cleveland’s rapid-fire bowing and scraping. The transportive opening sets the bar for the entire album, and Cleveland and company never disappoint.

The Travelin’ McCourys join Cleveland for a fiery bluegrass boogaloo on Gram Parsons’ “Luxury Liner,” with Cleveland’s fiddling taking the captain’s wheel and steering the incandescent harmonies of the McCourys. The lilting tune “Five Points” lopes along Cody Looper’s banjo rolls and Ronnie McCoury’s mandolin strums.

Vince Gill croons the country weeper “I Wish I Knew Now What I Knew Then” with support from Jerry Douglas on dobro, Justin Moses on mandolin, and Dan Tyminski on guitar. With Becky Isaacs Bowman’s ethereal harmonies, the song takes on a high lonesome ache of regret.

Cleveland and Billy Strings treat listeners to a hot licks hootenanny on “For Your Love,” playing a fiery call-and-response with each other. The highlight of the album may well be “Contact,” a pulsating tune on which Cleveland, Béla Fleck, and Cody Kilby play circles around one another as their instrumental runs ascend higher and higher into the sonic stratosphere.

Cleveland’s band Flamekeeper joins him on the album’s closing song, the title track, which is a lively, spry bluegrass rambler.

Lovin’ of the Game showcases Cleveland’s astonishing artistry, and his ability to dwell in songs and tunes so deeply that he turns them inside out, transcending musical styles and gliding between them effortlessly.


Lovin’ of the Game is available for pre-order HERE.


Music & Merch

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