Boyd Tinsley

True Reflections (RCA/Bama Rags)

Dave Matthews Band violinist Boyd Tinsley probably could have sold a helluva lot of records had he simply released an instrumental album of virtuosic fiddle-dee-dee jams. In fact, when the annoyingly-redundant-yet-undeniably-talented band's legions of frattooed fans first caught wind of the dreadlocked 39-year-old's début release, that is probably what they expected to hear.

Well, the joke's on them -- which is part of what makes True Reflections such a satisfying album. Boldly restricting the violin solos to back-bench status, Tinsley instead showcases slow-burn guitar solos, pretty female harmonies, no-bullshit lyrics and his own unique singing voice -- comparable in disposition to Negro Problem frontman Mark "Stew" Stewart's husky tenor. Though Matthews himself makes a guest appearance on the album's title track -- a DMB concert staple -- Tinsley spends the rest of the record consciously eschewing the mothership's signature drawn-out jams, giving way to some brilliant slide work from veteran guitarist Doyle Bramhall II. Only once -- on "Long Time to Wait" -- does Bramhall's twangy six-string approach jam-band proportions, and even then it's a sleepy buildup to crescendo, stylistically similar to the Allman Brothers' "Melissa." Tinsley's use of stalwart underground rocker Toshi Reagon and former John Cougar Mellencamp collaborator Lisa Germano are equally inspiring, with Reagon's harmonies lifting "Show Me" and an innovative cover of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" well beyond what might otherwise be flirtations with mediocrity.

Tonally, True Reflections conjures the solo work of another supporting actor -- E Street Band backup vocalist and wife of the Boss, Patty Scialfa, whose contributions to Ed Burns' No Looking Back (a fine movie that no one saw) underscored the film's unflinching meditation on blue-collar Jersey Shore life. Given his flamboyant stage presence, Tinsley shows surprising restraint and lyrical insight into Americana, which is, perhaps, True Reflections' most impressive characteristic. It's the sort of album a spurned Atlantic-Coast lover might take on a post-breakup road trip down I-95 in a slightly rusted, early-'80s Lincoln.

 
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