Album Review

Michael Cleveland - Lovin' of the Game

With Lovin’ of the Game, Cleveland emerges as a standout tunesmith.

Holler Country Music
March 1, 2023 1:05 pm GMT
Last Edited March 2, 2023 10:42 am GMT

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Michael Cleveland - Lovin' of the Game

Label: Compass Records

Release Date: 3/3/23

Producer: Jeff White, Michael Cleveland, Sean Sullivan

Tracklisting:

1. Thousand Dollar Holler
2. Luxury Liner – feat. The Travelin’ McCourys
3. Five Points – feat. Cody Looper and Ronnie McCoury
4. For Your Love – feat. Billy Strings and Jeff White
5. I Wish I Knew Now What I Knew Then – feat. Vince Gill
6. Sunny Days (Are Comin’ Once Again) – feat. Jeff White and Dan Tyminski
7. Contact – feat. Bela Fleck, Cody Kilby and Barry Bales
8. Temperance Reel – feat. Luke Bulla and Tim O'Brien
9. Empty Pocket Blues – with Flamekeeper, feat. Bryan Sutton
10. Now She’s Gone – with Flamekeeper,feat. Jerry Douglas
11. One Horse Town – with Flamekeeper, feat. Charlie Starr
12. The Lovin’ of the Game – feat. Flamekeeper

Virtuosity has long been one of bluegrass fiddler Michael Cleveland’s trademarks.

A child prodigy who started playing at the age of four, earning numerous awards pretty much right out of the gate, there’s never been any dispute about Cleveland’s eye-popping technique. While his violin fireworks remain as breathtaking as ever on his sixth solo album Lovin’ of the Game (his tenth album overall), it’s Cleveland’s tastefulness that sets this new material apart the most.

It’s rare when a musician can play with maximum assertiveness while maintaining a delicate touch, but throughout Lovin’ of the Game, Cleveland and fellow producers Sean Sullivan and Jeff White manage to capture full-throttle uptempo bluegrass in such a way that the music comforts as much as it invigorates. Thanks to its distinct recording ambience, the record lends itself as much to relaxing on the porch as it does to jolting people out of their seats and onto the dancefloor.

Above all, though, Lovin’ of the Game showcases Cleveland as the consummate team player. Right from the opening track ‘Million Dollar Holler’, Cleveland’s fiddle work blends seamlessly alongside the album’s guests, which include his band Flamekeeper, the Travelin’ McCourys, Vince Gill, Billy Strings, Béla Fleck and a host of others. Cleveland is so conscious of the music as a whole that one can spend countless hours trying to pick his parts apart from the rest of the action.

It’s also telling that instrumental workouts such as ‘Five Points’, ‘Contact’ and ‘Empty Pocket Blues’ manage to be catchy in their own right. Meanwhile, vocal-featuring originals like ‘Luxury Liner’ and the title track establish such a disarming good-time mood that you might not notice how well-crafted they are as actual songs.

All too often, we look at instrumental chops and songcraft as mutually exclusive. With Lovin’ of the Game, however, Cleveland emerges as a standout tunesmith.

8.5/10

Lovin’ of the Game is out Friday 3rd March via Compass Records.

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