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A couple of years ago, when I began playing a little more banjo than I had for a long time, I started listening to what people had been doing with the banjo since I last paid much attention, two decades earlier. I tend to gravitate toward the progressive stuff, but honestly, as truly great as some of it is, most of the time I still feel like “who really wants to listen to this?” The players I like the best are Jens Kruger, Tony Furtado, Dennis Caplinger, Noam Pikelny, and of course, Bela. That’s just me, of course.

But, then, there’s GODDESS Alison Brown. Now, I know many people say she plays too much guitar-like cocktail jazz, but I don’t see it that way. I guess what I like are little compositional gems, like Jerry Reed’s great guitar tunes. Very few banjo players manage even one of these. I think maybe Tony Furtado has the most of them, to my ear. But this one of Alison Brown’s, Return to Pelican Bay is just a masterpiece. I can’t even begin to articulate why I like it so much, but I think it’s a work of banjo genius (it’s a reprise of her earlier Pelican Bay, also great). Alison manages to create something that remains completely true to bluegrass banjo picking at its core, and yet draws upon the best of “cocktail jazz” with complete musicality. On top of this, it lays great on the instrument, just written on and for it alone. This is the mark of a Platonic Form of a tune, IMHO, of course .  Anyway, I just love this tune, and ... Read More