Created by local artist Sarah Bronstein, the cover of Bobby Britt’s Alaya nods to some important aspects of the busy local fiddler’s solo debut. The rainbow itself alludes to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the album’s creation. After complications from a medical procedure prevented Britt from moving to Spain to pursue a graduate degree from Berklee College of Music, Alaya producer Andrew Marlin pushed Britt to record his first LP, helping Britt find hope in a time of darkness. Meanwhile, the collage-like construction suggests the community-oriented approach to AlayaBritt recruited guitarist Jerry Brown and banjo player Allison de Groot along with Marlin’s Mandolin Orange bandmates Emily Frantz and Josh Oliver to fill out his songs.
Britta member of Town Mountain who also plays with Big Fat Gap, Alice Gerrard, Hiss Golden Messenger, Mipso, and a slew of otherscould have easily called in a cast of pals to make appearances, but the relatively tight circle of accomplished pickers contributing to the album allows the spotlight to remain on his expressive fiddle playing. Original, spirited fiddle tunes “Tar Heal” and “Out of the Woods” and the sprightly traditional “Big Footed Man in the Sandy Lot” glow with joy, while Britt’s take on the slow air and hornpipe “The Fairest Rose” is particularly mournful. The soaring Irish reel “Silver Spire” contrasts with the breakneck bluegrass breakdown “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom,” showcasing Britt’s tremendous versatility across the album’s instrumentals.
While Britt shines throughout, he cedes center stage on a trio of vocal tracks that were, incidentally, all recorded by Doc Watson. Led by Marlin, the aching “Look Up, Look Down That Lonesome Road” and “Little Orphan Girl” both sound like vintage Mandolin Orange. The finest, though, is the gospel-inflected “When I Die, I’ll Live Again,” which is perfectly suited to Oliver’s craggy voice. With Marlin and Frantz adding harmonies, it suggests that the guitarist’s next solo release could be another gem from this crew.
Of course, Britt is well versed in using his talent to boost the signal of his collaborators, but Alaya proves he’s plenty worthy of his own attention.