Renowned Fiddle Player – Michael Cleveland – Announces New Full-Length Album Lovin’ Of The Game
Featuring Bela Fleck, Billy Strings, Charlie Starr, Jeff White, The Travelin’ McCourys and Vince Gill, Among OthersDistinguished bluegrass artist and instrumentalist Michael Cleveland is unequivocally nothing short of extraordinary. The 12-time IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year and GRAMMY Award-winner has announced his forthcoming album, LOVIN’ OF THE GAME, is set for release on Friday, March 3 via Compass Records. Pre-Order LOVIN’ OF THE GAME here.
Built upon a rock-solid foundation of bluegrass prowess, LOVIN’ OF THE GAME — produced by Jeff White, Cleveland and Sean Sullivan — showcases the power of fusion, bringing truth to the phrase “greater than the sum of its parts.” Marking Cleveland’s sixth studio album, LOVIN’ OF THE GAME positively hums with energy across the 12 tracks finding appearances from the likes of Béla Fleck, Billy Strings, Charlie Starr, Jeff White, The Travelin’ McCourys and Vince Gill, among other notable talents.
Cleveland released the leadoff single — “Sunny Days (Are Comin’ Once Again)” — in October, and this Friday (December 9), the album’s title track, “The Lovin’ of the Game” feat. Flamekeeper, will be released as an instant grat track. Inspired by The Johnsons’ up-tempo cover of the Judy Collins classic, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper put a joyful, hard-driving spin on the dreamy 70s folk ballad, delivered with the kind of vigor that makes audiences fall in love with bluegrass to begin with. “The song is about prospectors and gamblers,” says Cleveland, “but for me, the ‘loving of the game’ has always been loving being a part of the musical community and all that being a musician has brought to me.”
The world tends to look at accomplishments in the form of accolades and GRAMMY Award-winner Michael Cleveland has plenty to his credit. After picking up the fiddle at four years old, Michael’s musical momentum began to propel him forward towards early success. “When I started taking lessons at age four,” he remembers, “I told the teacher right up front that I wanted to learn how to play bluegrass and I wanted to play ‘Orange Blossom Special.’” Reluctant as they were, his teachers quickly found reason to his rhyme, helping him progress to the point when, at age nine, Michael was invited to sit in with the legendary Bill Monroe at the Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival. Soon after, he brought his virtuosic style to the Grand Ole Opry as a guest of Alison Krauss, and was hand-picked for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) Bluegrass Youth Allstars before he was 14.
With LOVIN’ OF THE GAME, Michael Cleveland seizes his opportunity at this one wonderful life and swings for the rafters. The album positively hums with energy. Not beholden to one specific genre or pigeonholed label, it showcases Cleveland’s inclusive musical nature — placing value in the process over the output. It is in this release of control that we find something truly sublime: the sound of artists working together in the act of creation without regard for any preconceived notion of what “should” be. The sound of genuine musicianship.
Collaboration serves as the bedrock of the album, and that outreach towards community extends well beyond the studio. In one moment, he takes us on a loopy dialogue between fiddle and guitar with two-time IBMA Guitar Player of the Year Billy Strings, delivering a spacey jamgrass rendition of 80s rock classic “For Your Love.” The next, he breaks our hearts with “I Wish I Knew Now What I Knew Then,” a jukebox-ready country waltz pining over lost love, with Cleveland’s lonesome fiddle accompanying Country Music Hall of Fame member Vince Gill’s crooning vocals. Similarly, the instrumental “Contact” is the result of a connection Cleveland made with Matt Carson, another visually-impaired musician, who taught him how he could use the industry standard recording platform, ProTools. It was this knowledge of recording that allowed Cleveland to make this track with no live session or physical interaction between collaborators Cody Kilby, Barry Bales, and Béla Fleck.
“People know me as a traditional bluegrass fiddle player, which is what I love to do,” says Cleveland, “but this album is more than just the pure tradition. It’s a little bit of a departure for me.” Nowhere is that more pronounced than in the lonesome and moody “One Horse Town,” a cover of the 2012 release from Southern rock band Blackberry Smoke. Featuring vocals from Blackberry Smoke’s Charlie Starr and Cleveland’s longtime Flamekeeper bandmate, Josh Richards, and buoyed by the steady instrumental backing of Flamekeeper, Cleveland’s rendition coaxes out the tender melancholy of life in a town too small to sustain itself. Leaning into the weight of responsibility and the pain of hoping for more, Cleveland’s fiddle playing anchors the listener into the listlessness of an arrested life — it could almost drown you.
His blistering prowess and technical fluency have since marked him as a sought-after musician, leading to performances with Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Tim O’Brien, Andy Statman, and in recent years, Bela Fleck, Tommy Emmanuel and Billy Strings. However, it wasn’t until 2006, when Michael formed his own band Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, that he found the right vehicle for his musical vision, and he hasn’t rested since, constantly looking for new ways to push himself and his music forward.
“He plays fearless and it’s intoxicating to play with him because he makes you play fearless,” says Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill. “He takes no prisoners but he plays with restraint and a soul. He plays without abandon.” Clearly, the IBMA agrees as he’s their most awarded Fiddle Player of the Year with 12 wins, has won Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year six times, and fronts their 7-Time Instrumental Group of the Year.
On top of it all, Cleveland is also a 2018 Inductee to the National Fiddler Hall of Fame, as well as the subject of the feature-length documentary “Flamekeeper: The Michael Cleveland Story” (released in 2019), which gives a glimpse into the backstory and everyday-life of the acclaimed musician who has led an otherwise fairly private life. Today, Cleveland continues to make his way around the country performing, delighting audiences and leaving them with jaws dropped in complete amazement. “It’s wicked to see how much music he pulls out of a bow,” continues Gill. “He’s untouchable.”
LOVIN’ OF THE GAME will be released via Compass Records on March 3, 2023.
Tracklisting for LOVIN’ OF THE GAME:
“Thousand Dollar Holler”
“Luxury Liner” – feat. The Travelin’ McCourys
“Five Points” – feat. Cody Looper and Ronnie McCoury
“For Your Love” – feat. Billy Strings and Jeff White
“I Wish I Knew Now What I Knew Then” – feat. Vince Gill
“Sunny Days (Are Comin’ Once Again)” – feat. Jeff White and Dan Tyminski
“Contact” – feat. Bela Fleck, Cody Kilby and Barry Bales
“Temperance Reel” – feat. Luke Bulla and Tim O’Brien
“Empty Pocket Blues” – with Flamekeeper, feat. Bryan Sutton
“Now She’s Gone” – with Flamekeeper, feat. Jerry Douglas
“One Horse Town” – with Flamekeeper, feat. Charlie Starr
“The Lovin’ Of The Game” – feat. Flamekeeper