Those who know mandolinist David Via from his Chris Austin Songwriter's Contest wins at the 1997 and 2001 editions of Merlefest agree that it's high time he had a CD release. Their prayers have been answered with It All Comes Down to a Song, a 14-tune collection featuring his band, Corn Tornado.
Twelve of these numbers are originals, showcasing Via's preeminent skill as a tunesmith, as well as his sensitivity toward change and social dislocation. He's got the musical canon down pat, as he testifies in the title track--there's religion, moonshine stills, good times in his home up in the hills, days gone by and love that's gone wrong.
But there's more. Via has a knack for wrapping traditional tunes around contemporary issues like TV violence, taxes and privacy. In "Ain't That the Blues," he sings, "When the government knows your best friend even better than you do/Tell me, ain't that the blues?" And in "Hard Times," a song bemoaning the decline of the tobacco farmer, he adds, "It's a sad sight when the taxes are higher than the price I paid when I bought this land."
Via is backed by top-drawer players Daniel Knicely on guitar, John Flower on bass and "Fiddly" Dave VanDeventer, and their spot-on vocals are one of the best things about the album. The a cappella harmonies on the traditional tune, "Whiskey Took My Daddy Away," are gorgeous, and Via's follow-up number, "Corn Liquor," is awash with poetic imagery: "If you're haulin' down the mountain, don't let that moonshine in your eyes." The song is also a dramatic tour de force giving sway to the quartet's jazziest inclinations.
On "Payday Millionaire," Via says he's going to "Buy a cold case of beer and a ticket to a bluegrass show." Or, you can just kick back and fire up your CD player with It All Comes Down to a Song.