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Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Since I started saving for a new banjo (the second time around, whew) I have sought new voices on the banjo.  I recently went to CD BABY (highly recommend the site) to see what was available and came across two that were very interesting (see the links below).  The first is by a player named Mark Sylvester, “New Music for Banjo”, and the other is “Luke’s Dream”, by Steven Dee Harris.  These two recordings couldn’t be more different from each other, but what they have in common is the diversity and versatility the banjo is capable of in the right hands.


Sylvester’s “New Music for Banjo” places the banjo in a chamber music setting sharing air space with a string quartet, oboe, and there is one solo composition.  The music on this recording is described as contemporary classical banjo, and Sylvester’s playing here is wonderful to the ear.  Using a long neck ‘jo, he coaxes an airy, almost ethereal, sound from the instrument. If you listen to primarily bluegrass or Scruggs style playing, Sylvester’s reading may seem a tad startling at first.  It thrilled me to hear that high lonesome sound in this context. 


By contrast, Steven Dee Harris’s “Luke’s Dream” is a mother lode of banjo sounds.  The liner notes mention what Harris pulls off with this recording, “…there is a ton of variety here !!!! - and a ton of variety with the song writing - 20 original tunes and 10 different tunings.”  Using a personalized Clawhammer technique, Harris guides you through his unique approach to the instrument.  If you’re not afraid of diversified Clawhammer you’re going to love this CD.  With twenty tracks, “Luke’s Dream” is a wealth of banjo music made by someone who both respects tradition and is not afraid to take a leap of faith with the instrument we all love.


I won’t have both CDs in hand for another week or so, and as is I’m still working on a review of Steve Martin’s “The Crow” (very sweet), but once I can give each a full listen I’ll be tapping.  To close, these recordings compliment and contrast each other well, and would be a welcome addition to any collection.



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Experience Level: Just Startin'


Occupation: Research Archivist

Gender: Male
Age: 69

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
John Hartford, Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, Woody Simmons

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Created 7/23/2007
Last Visit 6/14/2009

I haven't touched a banjo since I was 17, 35 years ago. Just recently felt compelled to pick it up again after all that time. I guess you get bitten, you stay bitten!

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