Mason Via’s “New Horizons”: a strong album from a rising star
It’s been an interesting three years for Mason Via. The 24-year-old Via (rhymes with “sigh”) grew up in Stokes County NC, on the Virginia border. His father David has been a well-known writer and player in the bluegrass world for many years, and Mason traveled to fiddler’s conventions and festivals with him and began winning songwriting and band contests at an early age. Via moved to Nashville from North Carolina in late 2019 with high hopes, but the pandemic forced him back home. That was when he received an invite to audition for American Idol. He initially thought it was a joke but followed up, and a week later did a Zoom audition and was accepted, received a golden ticket, and was a finalist, performing in Hollywood with Bruno Mars’ and Katy Perry’s backing band.
A month after returning to North Carolina, he was contacted by Ketch Secor, founding member of Old Crow Medicine Show about the possibility of joining the band as the primary guitar player, singer and occasional mandolin and banjo player. In April 2021, a few weeks after the audition, he was moving to Nashville as a part of the band.
Via had already been working on a second album of his own music, with support from some of bluegrass and Americana’s best-known names. Tommy Maher and Alex Genova from Fireside Collective, Thomas Cassell from Circus #9, Will McClean from the Cleverlys, Nick Goad from Sideline, Ben Somerville, and Americana star Sierra Farrell helped on the album, along with others in the Nashville progressive bluegrass scene.
The resulting 12-song album, New Horizons, was just released by Mountain Fever Records. Via wrote or co-wrote every song on the album except one instrumental. Given that the album was recorded over a considerable amount of time in several different studios, the consistency is remarkable. While firmly rooted in bluegrass, influences from Cajun music (“Mardi Gras”), blues (“Trials” and “Poverty Line”), folk (“Ocean Blue”), traditional country with a bluegrass kicker (“Yeah Beer”), and old time (“Old Time Girl”) provide a broad menu. The blazing instrumental “White Face” shows off Via’s flatpicking chops, along with masterful contributions by Cassell, Genova and Weiss. “Love Train” is an up-tempo bluegrass tune that has echoes of a young Del McCoury, who has recorded one of Via’s original tunes for an upcoming album. Several of the songs are almost autobiographical; both “Colorado” and “Getting Gone” describe leaving home for greener pastures. The vocal efforts on this album are excellent. Via has a strong, engaging voice, and the harmonies are on the mark throughout, especially on “Big City”, which is a strong lead-off song for the album.
Great instrumentation, strong harmonies and fine songwriting make New Horizons a necessary album for fans of bluegrass and Americana. It helps that the album radiates fun, which is not surprising given Via’s outgoing and enthusiastic personality, and includes some of the genre’s hottest pickers. It also demonstrates that there’s a great future ahead for Via.