Musicians throughout Europe have embraced bluegrass, and François Vola is no exception. During the past couple of years, this celebrated French jazz guitarist has returned to his love for the genre—Back to Bluegrass is a testament to that love affair. Vola has deep personal roots in bluegrass country—he spent 12 years in North Carolina, where he met his wife and raised his children. Vola produced and engineered this album at his studio in southern France, and if it seems that the French Riviera is too far from the hollers of the Smoky Mountains to be authentic, think again. On these 11 original tracks, the guitarist gathers some of France’s best bluegrass pickers and also gets help from a trio of American allies: fiddler Darol Anger, mandolinist Emory Lester, and banjoist Matt Flinner.
The album kicks off with the spry murder ballad “Angie the Maiden,” about an innocent girl who has a fatal accident after an encounter with a rakish cowboy. But Vola clearly also has a sentimental streak. His album includes tender tributes to his mother, his dog (actually two songs about two different dogs), and his second home in North Carolina. Vola’s guitar work is confident and seldom flashy, although he gives his dreadnought quite a workout on the instrumental “Hickory Shuffle” (you can watch him working his way through its cross-picking licks on YouTube). He allows the other players to share plenty of spotlight as well. The buoyant closer, “Barjols Hop,” is an homage to his home in France and to the universal language that is bluegrass.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.