Youth is something that Alex Hargreaves uses to his advantage; his debut solo album Prelude has energy and spunk. Hargreaves plays the violin with such ease, together with a wealth of knowledge from experience. Prelude is a combination of folk-jazz sounds mixed with modern bluegrass. Despite his young age, Hargreaves' experiences with being a fiddle champion, attending the Wintergrass Academy, and being part of The Big Trio with Mike Marshall and Paul Kowert show that he has a lot of potential.
The song "Shasta," which opens the album, is uplifting and mysterious with a lilt of Celtic undertones; it gains power near the end, but manages to still have soft moments. There is a light Latin edge to the song "Road Song," which brings a different energy to the album; at first the fiddle work harmonizes behind a pleasing guitar solo, but it has a chance to shine in the second half. "Lonesome Clapper" is one of the fastest tracks on Prelude, with the soul of bluegrass imbued into it.
Hargreaves does a great job interpreting others' compositions. The interesting combination of the jazz standard "There Will Never Be Another You" with the John Scofield song "Not You Again" works well. While the two song titles oppose each other, the melodies of the songs combined are wonderfully placed. The Stevie Wonder song "Summer Soft" already has a bit of jazz to it in the original 1976 recording, but Hargreaves takes it in an innovative direction. While he takes the vocal line with his violin, the song still fits perfectly on the album. You don't miss the fact that there are no vocals, piano, or keyboard, because of the strong arrangement.
"Look What You've Done" is probably the best song on the album, albeit the shortest, because it showcases the talents of The Big Trio to their fullest. The song has a haunting nature; the violin and mandolin work marvelously well together, showing the camaraderie between Hargreaves and Marshall. For pure folk/Americana look no further than "Lost in Lunel." While the song starts off somewhat slow, it picks up into an energized performance filled with wonderful solos from the fiddle, mandolin, and banjo. Like several songs on the album, it gains energy near the end, but ends sweetly.
While Hargreaves is the album's front man, credit needs to be given to several of the artists accompanying him. Mike Marshall does an amazing job playing the mandolin, as does Grant Gordy with the guitar, and Paul Kowert has a strong bass solo on "There Will Never Be Another You/Not You Again." Banjo players Bela Fleck and Noam Pikelny do a wonderful job on "Lost in Lunel." Without all those accompanying Hargreaves, this album wouldn't have the same magic spark to it.
Alex Hargreaves' Prelude is a strong solo debut showcasing Hargreaves' ability to compose very listenable music while harmonizing with several instruments. With his creative ability to both compose music and play his heart out, his nine tracks here are only a taste of what Alex Hargreaves can do. There is no doubt in my mind that Alex Hargreaves has a long career ahead of him.