Chattanooga multi-instrumentalist Butch Ross is a master of the mountain dulcimer, drawing out variable rhythmic landscapes that hum and vibrate with the wild electricity of his singular musical vision. And while this instrument is often viewed in its relative position to traditional (read: old-timey) sounds, Ross prefers to view it as a conduit for bridging the past and the present. His nimble fingerpicks and strums echo with a certain weighted history, the kind of turbulent lineage that acts as both inspiration and recalibration. Under his precise guidance, the dulcimer attains a mythic quality, resulting in a grand exposition in regards to its necessity in modern musical practice.
With the release of his new record, “Found Objects,” Ross reveals the nuances of his influences while also carving out his specific niche within the lineage of this instrument. But actually, this album isn’t new in the traditional sense-it’s comprised of songs he’s previously written and recorded for various side-projects, compilations and one-off musical divergences that struck a particularly necessary nerve in his body. From his audacious cover of Radiohead’s “Idioteque” to his ruminating take on Sting’s “Fragile,” his work here possesses a mischievous and emotionally substantive gravity that drags us deep into their respective orbits.
But he’s not alone in this endeavor. Across these songs, he employs the ferocious talents of some truly great musicians, including Callie Harmon, Charles Allison, Tim Hinck, Faye Petree, Seth Hall, Gabe Barrett, Tim Cofield, Josh Green and Clyde Stubblefield-with some spectacular vocal work from Hayley Graham, Sahale Jensen, Jean Ritchie and Utah Phillips. And while that certainly seems like an extensive roster of artists, you get the feeling that they are all graciously serving to express the expressive noises that float around in Ross’s head. Through his command and understanding of the mechanics of the dulcimer, he is able to reinvent its use and presentation. And the songs on “Found Objects” are a clear indication that there is still a dramatic resonance radiating from this surprising instrument.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.