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Album Review

by Nioshi Jackson

Innovative. Invigorating. Impressive.

These are just three of many words that could be used to describe the debut release of mandolinist Isaac Eicher’s “Native Language.”

“Native Language,” although being released this year, has been in the works since 2009. At that time Eicher was a freshly enrolled student at University of Oklahoma when he first fell in love with the Spanish language. He began to study voraciously to the point that he even went abroad to Valencia, Spain to fully immerse himself in the culture.

One could think that a mandolinist, who’s won first place prizes in national competitions such as Walnut Valley Mandolin Championship and Rockygrass, would naturally make a bluegrass style record.

But not Isaac Eicher.

Sure, he loves the roots of bluegrass, but he had a desire to take his instrument to different musical landscapes. His curiosity for jazz and Latin music found Eicher creating a highly unique record along with producer Jonathan Rogerson.

Along with Rogerson, Eicher has managed to assemble a group of world class musicians to accompany him on his quest of musical expression, rounding out the main quartet with Nashville-based percussionist Bryan Brock on cajón and cymbals and Patrick Atwater on upright bass. “Native Language” also showcases Eicher’s compositional skills. Free from the need to define his musical “genre,” he wrote or co-wrote the majority of the album’s ten songs with a sense of maturity that is well beyond his years.

One listen to “Western,” (the opening track) or “Valenciana” and you’ll instantly hear and feel the Latin influences. But, then on the cut “Between Bristow and Stroud” you’ll think you’re in an Irish pub, enjoying a pint of Guinness. Eicher’s band moves as if they’re one, playing in sync and focusing their skills on magnifying the voice of the mandolin, no matter where the cultural influences take them.

To help Eicher complete his vision, he employed a little help from his friends. “Easier” was sung and co-written with Lindsay Lou, and “Salto” was sung and co-written with Marcela Pinilla, who Eicher frequently collaborates with.

He also had contributions from fellow instrumentalists, such as Jeff Goodkind, who contributed his composition “Eminence,” along with providing the lone piano track on the album. “Soundscapes” features saxophonist Miguel Alvarado, and “Between Bristow and Stroud” showcases the talents of Eli Bishop on fiddle.

The most amazing quality of this recording is Eicher’s ability to maintain continuity through his music, regardless of the style, by his unique approach to the mandolin. He is equally comfortable in a jazz setting as he is a bluegrass setting, or even playing funk!

Eicher is pushing the mandolin forward with an unfettered mentality that makes his artistry stand out. “Native Language” is the proof that Isaac Eicher is the rising star to watch for! Enjoy!