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Review: The Patuxent Banjo Project

Sunday, September 7, 2014

“The Patuxent Banjo Project” is a two disc set that brings together 40 of the best banjo players from Baltimore, MD, Washington D.C., Northern Virginia, and Southern Pennsylvania--many of whom have influenced each other throughout the years. The Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan area has long been a hub of Bluegrass Music. The CD brings together both well known stars and relatively obscure banjo players, and contains the work of three generations. The project covers original compositions like Casey Henry’s “Purple Creek” and old standards like “Cripple Creek.” The album comes with extensive linear and album notes. A three page introduction is included on the inside cover of the album. The set also includes a 40 page booklet which offers a short bio on each picker.

As for the album itself it features Bluegrass legends (and Country Gentlemen Alumni) like Bill Emerson and Eddie Adcock. With legends like this participating in the album how could it be anything else but spectacular?

The album covers the entire gamut for the banjo enthusiast. Nearly every style is represented from hard-driving traditional picking to chromatic to clawhammer and two-fingered style and other old-time styles. Russ Carson even provides a little bit of old-time fretless minstrel banjo on his contribution to the album entitled, “My Old Home in Baltimore” which, fittingly, is the last track on the album. The diversity of styles alone that are represented on this monumental album make it a must have for every student of the banjo.

What better way to begin the album than with 2013 IBMA banjo player of the year Mike Mumford playing the lightening fast “Hot Burrito Breakdown.” If Mike’s lightening fast chromatic licks on “Hot Burrito Breakdown” “don’t make your hair stand up, you’re bound to be bald headed” as the late, great Don Reno was fond of saying.

Paul Brown, a morning news anchor for NPR, provides a spirited version of “Cumberland Gap” in the Old-Time style.

Randy Barrett (D.C. Bluegrass Union founder) plays a heartfelt rendition of the Don Stover tune, “Things in Life.” Randy’s masterful playing is accented by Mark Schatz’s fantastic bass solo.

There is more good music than can be praised in this short review. The album is old-timey enough to be cute, just newgrass/progressive enough to impress the most discerning of ears, and just “folkie” enough to not turn me off. Truly this is an album with “something for everybody.”

As for the recording itself the accompaniment on each track is tasteful and adds to the overall pleasure of the listening experience. The track selection and sequence works well for me and the mixing and the mastering is spot on.

In short, this is a fantastic album—buy it!

To think that this is but a sample of only some of the best banjo players in the area leaves me wanting more. Perhaps if we are lucky we will be getting another two disc set in the future. For now this album is more than enough to satisfy.

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1932 Gibson TB-3 FON 271-16 with Don Bryant neck (style 3 inlay with Bella Voca headstock.)
Skipper "Organism" openback banjo
2020 Helix longneck with Gold Tone neck, Kavanjo head, and eight spoons inside.
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The Carter Family
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In his early years, Rev. Frankie had significant exposure his Grandfather, a semi-professional banjo player and early pioneer of the three-fingered style played on the five-string banjo. Growing up, Frankie continued to learn his craft by playing along with his father, a banjo player, and his uncle, an old-time and bluegrass guitarist. In an attempt to explore and understand the music of his ancestors, Rev. Frankie has hit time’s rewind button. His curiosity has led him to become a versatile musician, playing four different styles of banjo as well as guitar, ukulele, and various other stringed instruments. His playing styles are both unique and nuanced.

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