In many ways, Michael Cleveland is like a guest on his Lovin’ of the Game, which finds the blind, partially deaf fiddler surrounded by a host of bold-faced names–Jerry Douglas, Billy Strings, Vince Gill, Béla Fleck, Dan Tyminski, Charlie Starr, Tim O’ Brien and the Travelin’ McCourys among them–on an album of instrumental and vocal tracks.

The diversity of singers and lead players makes for a bit of a disjointed listen. But it also makes clear Cleveland – who plays in Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart band – is the Aretha Franklin of bluegrass. Dude has the r-e-s-p-e-c-t of his peers. 

Cleveland doesn’t sing, but Gill, Tyminski, O’Brien, et. al shore ’nuff do. Their efforts notwithstanding, it’s the instrumental tracks such as “Thousand Dollar Holler” and “Contact” where Cleveland and his compatriots are hottest.

So while listeners are pinging from the jam-infused ’grass of “For Your Love” with Strings and Jeff White to the straight country of “One Horse Town” with Starr, to the back-porch of the title track with his band Flame Keeper, Cleveland is at the center of the storm, sawing away just enough to make clear it’s his record, but leaving all the room needed for his co-stars to shine.