2013 Penguin Eggs Magazine Summer Issue


Cats and Dogs CD review

     Boundaries? What Boundaries? Toronto mandolinist Andrew Collins ignores them all with his latest instrumental solo disc. He is known for his work with the new acoustic outfit Creaking Tree String Quartet and the bluegrass Foggy Hogtown Boys, but the range of his playing goes much farther on Cats and Dogs, from hardcore bluegrass in Back Burner to a jazzy Jethro Burns-flavoured number called Cabana 11 and a string quartet piece called Canon in C, in which he plays all four instruments of the mandolin family. He has more than capable backup from many of the players he has worked with over the years but also acquits himself well on fiddle and guitar, including a Doc Watson-inspired David Blake.
     Collins is not just an instrumental whiz but also a very capable composer. Occasionally I'm disappointed by solo albums by great instrumentalists because they are just not great writers but such is not the case here--there are some memorable melodies among the 11 tracks on this disc. Cats and Dogs deserved its Juno nomination, and definitely deserves a listen.
-- By Mike Sadava

April 2013 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited


Cats and Dogs Cd review

     On Cats And Dogs, Ontario’s Andrew Collins delivers 11 original and often delightful bluegrass, classical, and jazz instrumentals working in small ensembles with a variety of talented friends. Collins’ second solo outing, following Little Widgets that earned him a Canadian Folk Music award for Pushing The Boundaries in 2006, Cats And Dogs is Juno Award nominated for Best Instrumental Release of 2012.
     One of the most accomplished young string band artists, Collins plays with the old-time and bluegrass ensemble Foggy Hogtown Boys and the acclaimed modern string band, Creaking Tree String Quartet, which has earned four Juno nominations. Collins is now fronting his own trio with Mike Mezzatesta on mandos, guitar, and fiddle and James McEleney on upright bass.
     Although Cats And Dogs offers musical breadth—a vibraphone mandolin duet for example—Collins serves up three strong pieces clearly within the bluegrass spectrum. “Back Burner” is an aptly named 1:45 of drive, featuring Chris Quinn’s banjo, that deserves serious airplay. “Corkscrew Road” comes right out of the fiddle tune adapted to bluegrass tradition. Chris Coole plays the five-string on it, as well as on the medium tempo “David Blake.” “Dark Matter” with its mandolin/reso-guitar interplay, the triple fiddle “Spider Cat,” “Farewell My Old Friend,” and “High Falutin” each fit in with bluegrass music, even if outside a technical definition, and could be played at the most traditional festivals.

- by Art Minius

2012 Mandolin Magazine Summer Issue


Cats and Dogs CD review
  
     Canadian mandolinist Andrew Collins has a long history of jumping genres and merging disparate influences into exciting new sounds and styles.  From his brilliant and innovative work with the Creaking Tree String Quartet to his more traditional bluegrass work in other bands, he's consistently shown a flair for the contemporary supported by a clear, clean, concise technique.
     On his new solo release, Cats and Dogs, he continues that trend, providing an intriguing mix of styles ranging from progressive acoustic to semi-classical, bluegrass and newgrass and more.  Writing 10 of the 11 tunes here, he shows a deft hand at composition and arrangement, bringing instruments ranging from mandolin and mondola, mandocello, guitar, dobro, banjo, fiddle and even vibraphone to life.
     The Carribean-tinged Cabana 11 creates a cool vibraphone/mandolin intro that sets just the right jaunty tone for this catchy tune.  Reigning Cats and Dogs plays out across a majestic, almost cinematic theme of Collins' guitar against the lush sounds of bass and fiddle.   
     Mandolin ensemble music fans will appreciate his Canon in C, where Collins overdubs himself in the studio playing four parts on first and second mandolin, mandola and mandocello.  Corkscrew Road comes across as the tune most likely here to be picked up by other players, a lively fiddle-tune-style number performed on mandolin, guitar, banjo, bass and fiddle.
     The only non-Collins tune here, The Prison Guard Sleepeth creates an eerily haunting Celtic mist of sound acroos mandocello, bibraphone and bass to impart a potent mood before drawing into a tango-influenced theme that would sound right in the hands of a Gypsy jazz band.
     Andrew Collins has made a fine career combining opposing sounds and styles into a catchy and unique style all his own.  That's certainly true of the aptly named Cats and Dogs.  Fans of modern mandolin who are free of preconceived notions about the instrument's place in the musical world will find great music across every track here.
- by David McCarty

March 16, 2007 Now Magazine


Little Widgets CD Review
 
   Smokin’ Newgrass…Mando Magic
Andrew Collins’ wired-up roots rethink.

     For many musicians playing in bands, a solo recording project presents a rare opportunity to realize some unfulfilled aspirations with a dream team of players, or at least some people you don’t usually ride around with in a van.    That’s the way Toronto roots mandolin master Andrew Collins saw his solo project, only his ultimate choice of collaborators happened to be already playing in his two bands, the Creaking Tree String Quartet and the Foggy Hogtown Boys.
     It should come as no great shock that the Little Widgets (SYTESOUNDS) disc finds Collins taking some of the boundary-busting newgrass concepts from the Creaking Trees and the traditional feel of Hogtowners.  Yet what he ends up with somehow doesn’t sound quite like either – certainly not something like Blue Ming for example, in which Collins has his string accompanists join him on a bebop jazz-inspired tear.
     It sounds amazing, but you have to wonder why Collins wouldn’t want to work with some other folks for a change.  You know, see how the other half lives.
“It was really a matter of choosing the right players who would best suit the sound of each song as I envisioned it,” explains Collins.  “I don’t think I could’ve made this album without drawing on this incredible community of musicians we have here in Toronto.”
     “Having played with all these guys before, I understood their individual strengths, so as I considered the arrangement of each tune I could imagine what each player would do with a certain part.  That proved to be very advantageous because we didn’t have much time to rehearse.  I basically ran through each tune with the players once, they got it, and we went right into recording.”
     Because Collins is far too tasteful a musician to be showy about his picking prowess, you don’t get much virtuosic flash from him on Little Widgets.
The real focus here is the compositions, and even more so the arrangements.  Collins confesses that he had some help with getting the harmonies straight, which isn’t’ mentioned in the disc’s credits.  And better sit down for this one; it could be a deeply troubling revelation for some long-time roots music fans.
     “I actually worked out a lot of the arrangements on my home computer.  So when I was putting the songs together, I had to listen to these really horrible synthesized sounds playing the various parts so I could hear how everything was going to work together harmonically.  Not only is the computer really bad at mimicking the tone of various instruments, the parts are played with this really stiff, mechanical feel.  So it was a genuine relief to hear actual musicians playing this stuff.  They really brought my music to life.”
     Although Collins has no plans to assemble a group to take the music of Little Widgets on the road, he does have one major showcase planned – the album’s entire cast will convene for one big show at the Glenn Gould Studio on February 3.
     You can also catch Collins with the Foggy Hogtown Boys and the massive Cantores Celestes women’s choir on Saturday in Go Tell It On The Mountain, a one-off collaboration on a program of traditional gospel hymns.
     “When we first heard the concept of playing with a 40-person choir, it seemed like an interesting idea, but honestly, I didn’t know if we were going to be able to pull it off.  But now that we’ve rehearsed with the women, everything’s come together amazingly well.  I’m really looking forward to the show.”

- by Tim Perlich

February 12, 2006 Toronto Star


Little Widgets CD review

     Light of touch, fast of wit, copiously imaginative, and a musical scholar of the highest distinction, Toronto mandolin virtuoso Collins pulls out all the stops on his instrumental solo debut, a masterful amalgam of mostly original bluegrass, jazz, folk and classical pieces not at all unfamiliar to those who know his work with the jazzy bluegrass outfit Creaking Tree Quartet and the more traditional string band, the Foggy Hogtown Boys, whose members assist on just about every track here. This is stylish, jawdropping acoustic instrumental work that matches anything in the canon, richly allusive, wholly melodic and respectful of the forms it embraces. It may not advance the genre, but certainly represents newgrass at its finest.
- By Greg Quill

May 2005 Bluegrass North Magazine


Likewise CD Review

     There is nothing quite like the simple pleasure of a well-done small ensemble album. In the performance of a duo, spaces are left in the music that (in the best cases) allow the things to develop in a way that is just not possible with a larger ensemble. The trouble for the performers of such music is that there is nowhere to hide. For even the casual listener, both musicians are fully exposed at all times. Andrew Collins and Marc Roy have released a duet album, which demonstrates that the two of them are up for the challenge. The two young players weave together seamlessly, creating a rich textured album that is prime example of the beauty that can be coaxed out between just two instruments.    Andrew Collins is rapidly becoming established as a major voice on the mandolin in Canada. Playing straight-ahead bluegrass with the Foggy Hogtown Boys (see January/February issue of Bluegrass North for the interview with that band), and exploring the realms of new acoustic music with the Creaking Tree String Quartet, he has demonstrated that he has both a versatile voice on the instrument, and an unusually strong melodic sense. He also has the requisite chops to deploy technical flash when needed.
     Marc Roy is known mostly from playing with the Emory Lester Set, and is also a regular Crazy Strings in Toronto (where Andrew Collins also performs). But with this album he should be poised to break through to far wider recognition. The guitar work here compares well to the very best in modern flat-picking. His tone is rich and full, more reminiscent of players like Dan Crary or Bryan Sutton, than those from the Tony Rice/Clarence White side of the spectrum, and his phrasing tends to the roundly melodic.
     This album is largely about original music, with each artist contributing five new tunes, including the title track "Likewise," written by Marc Roy. The new compositions navigate the stylistic range between the Dawg-like (such as "Dang Blues") and those that sounds like they could have been traditional (such as "Dang Blues") and those that sounds like they could have been traditional (such as "Get Outta Hogtown"). The balance seems tilted slightly to the more traditional sounding melodies, with the traditional fiddle favorite "The Dusty Miller" blending seamlessly into the program. In all, it makes for a uniquely satisfying duet album that stands up well to repeated careful listening.
- By Bjorn Weeks

2005 Bluegrass Now Magazine

2005 Mandolin Magazine


Artist Profile
Andrew Collins – Taking the Plunge
 
     Life was great for Canada’s Andrew Collins a few years ago.  He lived in Whistler, British Columbia, one of the world’s premier ski and snowboard resorts, spending his days passionately skiing the deep snows and steep slopes of the mountainous backcountry.  Playing mandolin?  Well, he had an inkling it might be something he’d want to do someday and he knew instinctively that once he started, he’d fall for it completely.
    So he skied with abandon, scanning weather reports for powder snowstorms in search of the perfect run.  Eventually, he hooked up with some musical friends – “hippie jammers,” he fondly calls them today – who played a sort of acoustic jam and bluegrass mix, and his interest in mandolin grew again.  But what really sent him over the cliff was seeing the David Grisman Quintet play live in Seattle eight years ago.
    “After seeing him play live, the very next day, I went out and bought a mandolin,” Collins admits.  “It was weird, it had a sense of familiarity to it.  I remember the first day I heard the original David Grisman Quintet album and it was almost like I knew what to expect even though I had never heard it before.”
    It was a perfect storm of opportunity and inspiration, driving him to learn his way around a mandolin fretboard like he expertly negotiated treacherous peaks and snow-packed mountain forests.  “I had a job as a security guard job in Whistler where all I had to do was stay awake overnight in a grocery store.  I could literally practice my whole shift.”
    “I knew after a couple of months that I had to be focused and dedicated to it.  So I spent as much time busking, jamming and practicing as I could.  Then after six months, I moved back to Toronto.  I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, to make a living,” he says, adding with a cackle of laughter, “Maybe it will someday.”
    Making a living, playing mandolin shouldn’t be much of a problem for the talented young Canadian.  His new progressive acoustic music group, the Creaking Tree String Quartet (CTSQ), has earned raved reviews from major magazines, including Mandolin Magazine, for its live shows and two CDs.
    With a unique blend of all-original material that creatively merges bluegrass, jazz, Celtic and classical styles in a refreshing new sound, CTSQ has earned a spot in major festivals in Canada and the U.S. and was a featured performer on the Roots & Branches stage at the 2004 International Bluegrass Music Association Fan Fest in Louisville, Kentucky.
    Asked whether he used mandolin instruction material, a special teacher, CDs or other sources to learn the instrument, Collins says he had some unique role models to help show him the ropes.
    “I didn’t even know who (John) Reischman was before I started taking lessons from him,” Collins recalls with a sly laugh.  He bought the Homespun Tapes instruction series by Grisman and “lifted” tunes from mandolin records.
    Reischman gave him some Monroe material to work on, as well as fiddle tunes, but Collins admits now that he wasn’t getting everything the talented Vancouver-based mandolinist was offering him.
    Before long, driven by the need to learn all he could, he took off from rainy, verdant British Columbia and headed to the windy, dry plains of West Texas to attend South Plains College, renowned for its bluegrass music study program headed by Mandolin Magazine columnist Joe Carr and banjo genius Alan Munde.
    “I didn’t need more repertoire,” he says of his school experience, “whit I got was a lot of playing experience, which I didn’t have.  Learning how to play into a microphone and how to sound good in the studio.  I was there for one full school year and I was incredibly focused.  I was sitting at home practicing all night and then playing music at school all day.”
    From South Plains, he moved to Humber College in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where he entered the school’s jazz guitar program but managed to remain mandolin-focuses by doing his work there on a five-string electric mandolin.  “I was adapting guitar voicing to mandolin,” he says now, a task that contributed to his unique phrasing and extended sense of the mandolin’s harmonic structure.
    Following his formal musical education, he returned to Toronto and quickly became immersed in that city’s burgeoning bluegrass and acoustic music scene, joining a new acoustic group called Big Gravel.  That band unraveled fairly quickly, but Andrew’s easily appreciated talents led to the creation of one of the city’s premier bluegrass acts, the Foggy Hogtown Boys.
    That band landed a regular gig drawing a loyal fan base.  About the same time, Andrew hooked up with the more progressive musicians in CTSQ to pursue the more experimental music that quartet has become famous for.
    Of CTSQ, Andrew says the band retains all of its original members and has found a recipe for musical and professional success that any group would do well to emulate.  “I don’t think that band could survive a personnel change,” he explains.  “It’s incredible to find people who are really eager to take on all those challenges.”
    “The beautiful thing of it is that anyone can bring an idea to the band.  No matter how crazy it is, we always try it.  Then we work at it until it becomes an idea everyone likes.  We always wind up in unanimous agreement, even if it takes time to get there.  That way, we always push ourselves and achieve a better, more unified, evolving sound.”
    Like his band, Andrew Collins also displays an evolving sound and style, which he attributes to studying influences like Chris Thile, Mike Marshall, John Reischman and other greats.  Unlike many lesser players, he strives to get to the core of any musical style that interests him.
    “If I get into a style of music, I’m not just learning some jazz tunes,” he explains.  “It’s about trying to give the music the proper reverence it deserves.”  His practice style, again emulating the best musicians, focuses not on honing his strengths but critically examining his playing for weak areas and then focusing on fixing those problem areas.
    “I’ve always been a problem-solver, so I’m always trying to figure out what my problems are and trying to solve them,” he tells Mandolin Magazine.  “I’ll never get there, but I never want to stop.  I hope I never get to the point where I’ve had enough of practicing.”
    In addition to his dedication, Collins has the added incentive of owning a spectacular mandolin that keeps encouraging him to put in hours of fretboard time.  His gorgeous 2004 Heiden A is the second of Michael Heiden’s mandolins he’s owned.  But unlike his earlier Sitka-topped F5, the new A has an Englemann spruce top which he feels makes an enormous difference.
    “That A5 I’m playing now is the most responsive mandolin I’ve ever played,” he says with obvious enthusiasm.  “The high end is super clear and the low end is punchy.  It’s only three and a half months old but the bottom end coming out now is amazing.  This mandolin just has so much more depth to the tone.  I really like the Englemann top; the hammer-ons and pull-offs really pop out, and it has great articulation and note separation.”  In addition to the Heiden A, Collins plays a Sumi mandocello and a Lebeda mandola.
    He’s recently landed an endorsement deal with D’Addario, and is using the J-75 set on mandolin because he likes the higher tension.  For picks, he grudgingly admits that he uses natural tortoise shell picks.
    “I keep trying to find something else that maintains it’s tone throughout the gig.  Tortoise still has that rich tone and dryness,” he says.  He shapes the picks into a rounded tri-corner shape, leaving enough of a point to “grab the string with.”  He prefers no flex at all in his picks, leaving them up to 1.2 millimeters thick.
    It would be almost too easy to link Andrew Collins’ past obsession as a skier with his current determination to excel on mandolin.  The fluid lines, the sense of freedom and exploration, the risk-taking and sense of being on the edge all apply to both passions, making it virtually a cliché to connect the two.  But for this dedicated, hard-working, intellectually inquisitive and unendingly creative young player, the parallels between the two worlds he knows best are too obvious to ignore.
    “Being a musician is like being a ski bum.  I work really hard at the music and the reward of being a musician is working at it and being able to keep playing,” he expounds.  “I work incredibly hard at being a musician so that I can keep working at being a better musician.  I learned that living in Whistler.”
    “I didn’t want to work just so I could do something; I’d rather work at something I was passionate about.  At that time it happened to be skiing.  But as soon as I started playing mandolin, it was clear that was the direction I should be going.  I can’t imagine turning back.”
By David McCarty

November 12, 2004 Chicago Tribune


Top Ten Bluegrass Recordings of 2004

#7. LIKEWISE - Andrew Collins and Marc Roy

These two progressive pickers, mandolinist Collins, of The Creaking Tree String Quartet, and guitarist Roy, of the Emory Lester Set, have crafted a set of  thoughtful original instrumentals that, while providing effective launching pads for creative improvising, stand up nicely as compositions. The pair are more focused on musical ideas than on showing off their impressive chops, though on numbers like the lively Get Outta Hogtown, they leave no stone unturned when virtuosity is called for.
- By David Royko