Distinguished bluegrass artist and instrumentalist MICHAEL CLEVELAND is nothing short of extraordinary. LOVIN’ OF THE GAME, is the new release from the 12-time IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year and GRAMMY Award-winner, and is built upon a rock-solid foundation of bluegrass prowess.
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Produced by Jeff White, Cleveland and Sean Sullivan, Lovin’ Of The Game showcases the power of fusion, bringing truth to the phrase “greater than the sum of its parts.” Marking Cleveland’s sixth studio album, Lovin’ Of The Game positively hums with energy across the 12 tracks finding appearances from the likes of Béla Fleck, Billy Strings, Charlie Starr, Jeff White, The Travelin’ McCourys and Vince Gill, among other notable talents.
With Lovin’ Of The Game, Michael Cleveland seizes his opportunity at this one wonderful life and swings for the rafters. The album positively hums with energy. Not beholden to one specific genre or pigeonholed label, it showcases Cleveland’s inclusive musical nature — placing value in the process over the output. It is in this release of control that we find something truly sublime: the sound of artists working together in the act of creation without regard for any preconceived notion of what “should” be. The sound of genuine musicianship. Collaboration serves as the bedrock of the album, and that outreach towards community extends well beyond the studio. In one moment, he takes us on a loopy dialogue between fiddle and guitar with two-time IBMA Guitar Player of the Year Billy Strings, delivering a spacey jamgrass rendition of 80s rock classic “For Your Love.” The next, he breaks our hearts with “I Wish I Knew Now What I Knew Then,” a jukebox-ready country waltz pining over lost love, with Cleveland’s lonesome fiddle accompanying Country Music Hall of Fame member Vince Gill’s crooning vocals. Similarly, the instrumental “Contact” is the result of a connection Cleveland made with Matt Carson, another visually-impaired musician, who taught him how he could use the industry standard recording platform, ProTools. It was this knowledge of recording that allowed Cleveland to make this track with no live session or physical interaction between collaborators Cody Kilby, Barry Bales, and Béla Fleck.
“People know me as a traditional bluegrass fiddle player, which is what I love to do,” says Cleveland, “but this album is more than just the pure tradition. It’s a little bit of a departure for me.” Nowhere is that more pronounced than in the lonesome and moody “One Horse Town,” a cover of the 2012 release from Southern rock band Blackberry Smoke. Featuring vocals from Blackberry Smoke’s Charlie Starr and Cleveland’s longtime Flamekeeper bandmate, Josh Richards, and buoyed by the steady instrumental backing of Flamekeeper, Cleveland’s rendition coaxes out the tender melancholy of life in a town too small to sustain itself. Leaning into the weight of responsibility and the pain of hoping for more, Cleveland’s fiddle playing anchors the listener into the listlessness of an arrested life — it could almost drown you.
Lovin’ Of The Game is in the house now at Horizon!