Album Review: The Dueling Fiddlers’ ROCK VIOLIN – A Melodious Mashup of Popular and Classical Music

I’ve listened to quite a few classical crossover albums, and several of them have been cheesy enough to melt over a plate of nachos. The Dueling Fiddlers’ Rock Violin is the first album I’ve come across which marries pop and classical music into a respectable mashup. Adam DeGraff (former concertmaster of the Richmond Symphony) and Russell Fallstad (violist of the Fry Street String Quartet) have unleashed their classically trained chops to bring tunes by artists such as Lady Gaga and Led Zeppelin into unexpected new realms.

“Farewell & Good Riddance” integrates songs and genres from all over the musical map – fiddler Jay Ungar’s “Ashokan Farewell”, punk band Green Day’s “Good Riddance”, alternative rock group Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida”, and classical composer Johan Pachelbel’s Canon in D. The song begins with DeGraff performing the traditional “Ashokan Farewell” melody. After the first phrase, Fallstad joins in with sumptuous harmonies. A pizzicato introduction draws the listener into “Good Riddance” and then explodes with awesome double stops and bow pyrotechnics. The duo detours through about 20 seconds of “Viva”, followed by an enthusiastic interruption of the Canon in D. The song returns to another statement of the Green Day melody, explores an up-tempo version of “Ashokan Farewell” and closes with a little TDF improv.

Ke$ha Goes Gaga” melds Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”. Ordinarily, Contrapuntist and I would rather eat raw sewage than listen to either one of these singers. And that’s putting it mildly. Therefore, we knew that TDF really had something special when we found ourselves tapping our feet along with the song and actually enjoying it. After a mellow introduction, a sample announces, “The party don’t start till I walk in”. The duo takes off in a rocking version of “Tik-Tok” with some admirable percussion effects in the accompaniment. The duo lovingly milks the highest ranges of their respective instruments near the end of the song.

Two of the tracks on this album from old-school rock bands may inspire the listener to throw up the metal horns. The first, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” combines Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” with Queen’s “We Will Rock You”. The second, a cover of AC/DC’s “Back in Black”, ventures briefly into another AC/DC tune, “Thunder”. Each of these tracks showcases TDF’s remarkable ability to produce guitar and percussion effects on the violin/viola. These aren’t electric instruments either; just the traditional acoustic kind. DeGraff described the creation of some of these effects in an interview with Laurie Niles on

I didn’t want to rely on mics, amps, pickups or anything like that. So I started experimenting with the violin as an acoustic box that I could make sounds that I wanted to make… Maybe I could make the sounds that I wanted to with my hands, with my bow, with my sounding point, with my pressure and with my speed. I even started getting into cross-tuning – …tuning the strings to pitches that they are not normally tuned to…

TDF dazzles by rocking out while maintaining control of their technical chops. “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” features Fallstad kicking serious butt by playing the melody of “We Will Rock You” in octaves. “Back in Black” features DeGraff’s excellent recreation of the guitar intro from “Thunder”.

“Bach & Roll” is an improvisation on the Prelude from the Cello Suite in G Major by J.S. Bach. Fallstad begins the track with a verbatim version of the piece, while DeGraff’s blues-flavored improv soars above like an eagle. About midway through the song, the duo restarts the work with decidedly un-Bach bowings and techniques. A relentless increase in tempo leads to a breathless climax. Fallstad returns to the traditional melody with a wild abandon reminiscent of Eddie Van Halen’s famous “Eruption” guitar solo. After  romping through a syncopated double stop jam, the piece closes out with a triumphant violin slide.

The album features two solo contributions by DeGraff – Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. The complexity of technique and harmonization in both of these pieces ranks right up there with solo compositions by Paganini, Bach, and Ysaÿe. DeGraff’s performance reveals what must’ve been a great deal of time spent listening to the stylings of rock guitarists Jimmy Page and Slash. It’s also worth mentioning that “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is the tune on which thousands of violinists were woodshedding away in TDF’s recent Rockin’ Fiddle Challenge (more info available about the challenge here).

After the intensity of the first six tracks, TDF mellows out with romanticized versions of Radiohead’s “Creep” and “Love Story” from the 1970 film score. TDF’s interpretations of these songs are reminiscent of the way early 20th century violinist Fritz Kreisler would reimagine by other composers and flavor them with his own distinctive style. The two tracks showcase TDF’s beautifully unified tone quality.

“As Good Goes” brings the album full circle by unexpectedly mashing songs from two disparate artists – “Stay or Leave” from jazz/funk/rock group The Dave Matthews Band  with”November Rain” from hard rockers Guns N’ Roses. The song begins with TDF’s sparse pizzicato improv which blooms into a passionate version of the Dave Matthews tune. The duo kicks up the energy level with a transition to “November Rain”. The album finishes with a richly harmonized, exuberant jam session.

Track listing is as follows:

1. Farewell & Good Riddance (Green Day/Coldplay/Pachelbel Canon/Ashokan Farewell)
2. Ke$ha Goes Gaga (Lady Gaga/ Ke$ha)
3. I Love Rock ‘n Roll (Joan Jett/Queen)
4. Bach & Roll (Bach/TDF)
5. Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin)
6. Back in Black (AC/DC)
7. Creep (Radiohead)
8. Love Story (From the 1970 Film Score)
9. Sweet Child O’ Mine (Guns N’ Roses)
10. As Good Goes (TDF/Dave Matthews/ Guns N’ Roses)

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