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The banjo reviews database is here to help educate people before they purchase an instrument. Of course, this is not meant to be a substitute for playing the instrument yourself!

6809 reviews in the archive.

Mean Mary: Blazing

Submitted by neilends (see all reviews from this person) on 10/31/2018

Where Purchased: Apple Music

Overall Comments

Surprised that no one has used BHO’S review feature for Mean Mary, so let me be the first. “Mean Mary from Alabam“ calls herself that only because she named herself that as a munchkin when she was 5 or 6. Speaking of age 6, thats how old she was when she sang her first broadcasted country song:

Mean Mary at age 6

Her latest album is Blazing (2017). While I don’t know her motivation for that title, it’s a damn good one when you listen to the title track, a banjo-guitar instrumental with her brother Frank:


Pegging Mean Mary to a genre is a creative exercise. Her banjo-rocking vocal talents have confused the editors of Apple Music so thoroughly that her many albums on that platform have been assigned to the following categories: Rock, Country, Contemporary Folk, Alternative Folk, Singer/Songwriter, and Pop. That said, her website openly declares a dislike of “the commercial country-music scene.”

As for the Blazing album, the title track is one of two instrumentals. The other is “Lights, Guns, Action” which also features some blazing banjo and guitar playing. Her banjo skills come alive alongside her vocals in “Sugar Creek Mountain Rush.” You won’t hear any in the more pop-sounding “I Face Somewhere,” but I’ve still replayed it a million times in my car. 

If I haven’t persuaded you yet of her banjo skills, here’s her Cripple Creek:

Cripple Creek

Overall Rating: 8

The Goddamn Gallows: 7 Devils

Submitted by bulletbear8 (see all reviews from this person) on 9/12/2018

Where Purchased: Itunes

Overall Comments

Ya know in my opinion it's a very well rounded album. By that I mean it incorporates alot of different elements so it can appeal to everyone. For instance it starts with a song called Ragz N Bonez, with has alot of metal/hard rock sounds in it and a creepier darker tone. Than later you get into Broken Man which sounds a lot more Bluesy. Of course having Jayke Orvis in the band they had to do a .357 String Band song (Raise the Moon). That song added the fast mandolin, punk-grass kinda side to the album. 7 devils and y'all motherfuckers need jesus I think is the distinctive two on the album that really shows what the band's style is all about. Ya know that Hellbilly/psychobilly/alt-country sound. They even through out an amazing tribute to Townes Van Zandt which I loved. Over all I love all the songs on the record. It all sounds really well written and professionally done. These guys are full of talent. I would highly suggest looking up the Goddamn Gallows, and this album. Which in my opinion is their best.

Overall Rating: 10

Alan Munde: Banjo Sandwich

Submitted by jhko (see all reviews from this person) on 3/5/2017

Where Purchased: you tube

Overall Comments

Wow. What can I say? Another reviewer said this album is as fresh as 30 years ago (40 actually), and is a masterpiece. I couldn't agree more. If you have never listened to this, do so immediately. Amazing playing, just incredibly beautiful in tone, phrasing, everything. Wow. Reminds me why Alan is a legend. 

Overall Rating: 10

Sammy Adkins: Tribute to Keith Whitley

Submitted by Ralph Stanley legend (see all reviews from this person) on 1/30/2017

Where Purchased: Online - Ebay

Overall Comments

I'm not sure how many CD's Sammy Adkins has made, I have only managed to acquire this one but what a great recording it is. We all know Sammy through his work with the late, great Ralph Stanley, and this recording just carries on his great vocals and love for that traditional mountain Bluegrass sound.

The recording is full of  heartfelt Bluegrass, my favourites being Ashes of love / Somewhere between / and the title track- A tribute to Keith Whitley. If you like Ralph's mountain style of Bluegrass, do yourself a favour and get hold of a copy of Sammy's CD.  It's also a great CD to play along to, a lot of the songs are in G / A and great to practice too.

Well done Sammy,


Dave Nixon



Overall Rating: 10

Dan Gellert: The Old-Time Tiki Parlor presents Dan Gellert

Submitted by banjo bill-e (see all reviews from this person) on 5/12/2016

Where Purchased: Elderly

Overall Comments

This is a combo CD/DVD with the same material presented on both formats and consists of Dan alternating between solo fiddle and solo clawhammer banjo, with about half adding vocals. It's all Dan and it's all live and all very real and and all awesome!

Now, you either like solo mountain-style fiddle with it's screech and squawk or you can't be in the room with it, so you will know in the first few seconds of "John Henry" if you are going to hate this, (as my wife does!), but if you don't hate it and hang with it you may find that it grows upon you with every listening until it becomes one of the coolest things you've ever heard. Dan's cross-tuned fiddle often sounds like two fiddles playing together as he saws and sings, or growls as the case may be. I find this sound to be most addictive!

As for clawhammer banjo, Dan is as good as it gets, with rhythm that always makes you move. Dan plays steel and gut but always fretless. His takes on Coo-Coo and Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms are fresh and unique. And he has his own little licks and tricks that I can't figure out for the life of me. Nobody sounds like Dan. 

This is very raw music and it's very vital and engrossing. It is NOT background music---crank it!

All in all this is one of the most enjoyable recordings that I have ever heard and just keeps getting better with more familiarity. If a Dan Gellert fan then this is essential. For anyone else tired of music which is copycat,  too-slick, and sterile, this is your antidote, right here!

Overall Rating: 10

The Ozark Highballers: The Ozark Highballers

Submitted by witty banjo related username (see all reviews from this person) on 7/3/2015

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

Fuckin cracker of a record! Clarke Buehling channelling your favourite fingerpickers; Seth Schumate, harmonica wizard; Aviva Steigmeyer and Roy Pilgrim adding some great guitarin and fiddlin. Every track a winner...first record I've paid for in years, and worth every cent.

Do yerself a favour, grab a copy.

Overall Rating: 9

Stephen Wade: Banjo Diary

Submitted by pjxndvm (see all reviews from this person) on 2/1/2015

Where Purchased: Elderly

Overall Comments

This is a wonderfully fresh listen every time I hear it. This is NOT a bluegrass cd with Scruggs or melodic banjo playing, so if that is what you are looking for, you won't find it here. This is a banjo recording that doesn't pigeon hole the playing into a typical style. The songs follow the melody. It is a very fresh sound. This Cd falls into the old time category music more than anything else. One of my top five favorites.

Overall Rating: 10

Anielle Reid : Ain't Like 'Em

Submitted by Danielle of red winter (see all reviews from this person) on 1/20/2015

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

I have never heard anything like this. If urban banjo is a genre this would be the prototype. Anielle has beautiful clear vocals and the banjo is so full and present in every track. The lyrics are not typical of a folk album but the delivery is, with a lot of harmonies and strong singing it is definitely an Americana album.

With a lot of music sounding good but the same this album is truly refreshing.

Overall Rating: 9

Appaloosas: Appaloosas

Submitted by snozzle (see all reviews from this person) on 12/18/2014

Where Purchased: on line

Overall Comments

CD and band review - Appaloosas, we first heard the band a the Cornish Bluegrass Festival back in 2013.  It was one of those very, very rare sets where every song was a great joy. Eliza's voice is so crystal clear and so well suited to the genre that we though she was a "Bluegrass Angel" just down form the Appalachians! The bell like clarity f her voice was matched by the flawless accuracy and rhythm of Peter's banjo playing with Stephen's soulful fiddle playing rounding off the amazing sound 

Often you hear a abnd live, buy the CD, find it limp and never listen to it again. we have most of the CDs of most of the greats of the genre and believe that Appaloosas is their equal in all respects. It gets played the most.

Overall Rating: 10

Leroy Troy: Son of the South

Submitted by 74rider (see all reviews from this person) on 11/18/2014

Where Purchased: Amazon

Overall Comments

If you like clawhammer banjo solo's, this is a good'n. It's all Leroy and his banjo singing and playing all great traditional songs by himself. If you have a desire to break out on your own, this will serve as great inspiration.

Overall Rating: 10

Chance McCoy: Chance McCoy and the Appalachian Strings

Submitted by 74rider (see all reviews from this person) on 10/31/2014

Where Purchased: Amazon

Overall Comments

Great Fiddle music but also some great clawhammer banjo. I liked Gospel Plow and Dance All Night the best.

Overall Rating: 9

David Holt: I got a Bullfrog

Submitted by 74rider (see all reviews from this person) on 7/23/2014

Where Purchased: Can't remember

Overall Comments

This is one of the best collections of old-time fun clawhammer songs with a full band. Love the sound. Ever since I saw DH on Hee Haw playing "The Cat Came Back", I was hooked.

Overall Rating: 10

David Holt: Grandfather's Greatest Hits

Submitted by 74rider (see all reviews from this person) on 7/23/2014

Where Purchased: Can't remember

Overall Comments

This is another 10 as far as I'm concerned. Lots of good clawhammer playing here with a full band and classic songs. Great harmonies and notable guest performances.

Overall Rating: 10

Detour: Going Nowhere Fast

Submitted by randyl (see all reviews from this person) on 7/20/2014

Where Purchased: Banjo Hangout

Overall Comments

Great band and a great recording ! . This band is new to me, but I was very surprised . The cd is  made up of  8 original vocal songs, 2 original instrumentals and 3 written by other people.  

Vocally  Missy Armstrong handles all the lead vocals very well and with Jeff Rose and Scott Zylstra and their harmonies blending very well together. Mandolinist  Jeff Rose wrote the 2 instrumentals , Three, Two, One and $100 featuring all these accomplished musicians .They also do a great twist on an old Johnny Nash song "I Can See Clearly Now".

The highlights in my opinion are the 2 original gospel songs "Ain't Gonna Wait" and "I'm Not Home Yet" plus the upbeat "Traveling The Highway Home" written by Walter Bailes and Frankie Bailes . 

The cd is finished with Missy Armstrong demonstrating her dynamic vocal ability on "America the Beautiiful .

I really do believe we will hear more from Detour in the future , and we will all be blessed for it.

The band is members are as follows:

Missy Armstrong / Vocals

Jeff Rose / Mandolin,Vocals

Scott Zylstra / Guitar , Vocals

Peter Knupfer / Violin

Jeremy Darrow / Double Bass 

Lloyd Douglas / Banjo

Overall Rating: 10

Dan Gellert: Waitin' on the Break of Day

Submitted by Tim in South Carolina (see all reviews from this person) on 7/11/2014

Where Purchased: Online

Overall Comments


Now that I have it, I wonder why it took me so long to get this CD. I had heard some of Dan Gellert’s tracks on the compilation CDs Old-Time Banjo Festival and Banjo Gathering. I recall there being plenty to like there. And I’ve come across mentions of Gellert online over the last while, particularly on Banjo Hangout. But while I had heard about this CD, I left it an unturned stone.

Something about the last mention I came across sparked my interest and motivated me to find out more about this recording. It is out of print, as it turns out (though available via download purchase from Dan himself). And I’ve concluded that Dan is under-exposed and (pardon the cliché) underrated. If more people knew about Waitin’ for the Break of Day, I suspect there’d be more buzz, even though it’s now several years past release date.

Dan has a gritty, not prettified, attack on his banjos. There’s lots of rhythm and bounce and drive. And I hear all kinds of tasteful variations on the basic tune, but never to the point that the melody recedes in importance. He plays two fretless banjos, one strung with gut, the other steel. As you might expect from fretless instruments, there are lots of good slides. Solo fiddle also makes an appearance, in seven of the cuts, compared to nine with banjo.

Tune selection ranges wide, and his simple liner notes cite sources (minstrel shows of the nineteenth century, Sam McGee, Wade Ward, Uncle Dave Macon, to mention just some). There is much variety across the generous sixteen tracks.

”Cotton Eyed Joe” is one of my favorites; it showcases Gellert’s remarkable drive and the way he makes the banjo fretboard dance, along with his effortless integration of vocals. “Sandy Boys” is striking and plaintive both. “Jimmy Crack Corn” feels like it could have been transported from an earlier century. Gellert does more than produce authentic sounds, he somehow allows his personal connection to this music to resonate.

Web site: For download instructions and payment, contact Dan Gellert here on the Banjo Hangout, where he is a member.

Track listing: Eph Got a Coon; Policeman; Mary Blane; De Boatman Dance; Going Across the Sea; Cluck Old Hen; Polly Put the Kettle On; The Hog-Eyed Man; Buckdancer's Choice; Cotton-Eyed Joe; Sandy Boys; Jimmy Crack Corn; Old Bunch of Keys; We'll All Go to Heaven When the Devil Goes Blind; Old Christmas Morning; Pateroller Get You/Old Sledge

Overall Rating: 9

David Holt: I got a Bullfrog

Submitted by 74rider (see all reviews from this person) on 7/3/2014

Where Purchased: Local

Overall Comments

If you like old time music, clawhammer banjo in particular, this is a great album. In fact anything by David Holt is awesome. He's a character but truly loves the old music and its roots. Who knows, you may even "larn sumpin".

Overall Rating: 10

Ken and Brad Kolodner: Skipping Rocks

Submitted by hayesdt (see all reviews from this person) on 6/8/2014

Where Purchased: Online

Overall Comments

Many fans have been aware for some time that Ken and Brad Kolodner were planning to release a second Traditional album, but they could not have anticipated that a second album could possibly surpass their previous collaboration, "Otter Creek." That first album was exceptional and had the distinction of being one of the most highly regarded and played instrumental folk albums during the year following its release. "Skipping Rocks," however, actually exceeds their first effort.

The musicianship on this album is absolutely incredible. Ken Kolodner is one of the finest, most able, and diverse hammered dulcimer players anywhere. There are about four or five other talented players who are really outstanding also, but in many ways his work surpasses theirs. His arrangements are always unusual and truly outstanding, his technique is precise and unmistakable in its sound, and he knows how to use a vastly underutilized and neglected acoustic instrument -- the hammered dulcimer -- to complement rather than detract from Old Time Traditional Music. Ken's distinct hammered dulcimer rhythms on tracks such as “The Orchard” and "Billy In the Lowground" (reminiscent of the same rhythms used with "Otter Creek" on the Kolodners' first album) authoritatively confirm the driving elements of many of their tunes. What many hammered dulcimer fans don't realize, however, is just how good his Old Time fiddle playing is (fiddle was and is his first instrument, well before hammered dulcimer). Admittedly, there are many more excellent fiddlers than hammered dulcimer players around, but Ken's Old Time fiddling is exceptional in that he is perhaps the best -- the absolute best – when it comes to emphasizing and maintaining that strong accent on a tune’s back/offbeat; one can always recognize his fiddle playing because of that. On this new album, his hammered dulcimer versatility is best revealed on the tunes "John Brown's March" and "Grub Springs," which are different versions than listeners have ever before heard; the tunes contain luscious arrangements and playing. And his (and Brad’s!) fiddling on "Lost Indian" is so powerful that even a knowledgeable Old Time Music listener can became confused and lose track of whether there really is any difference between "Lost Indian" and "Cherokee Shuffle," or whether it even matters!

Ken’s son Brad Kolodner is simply one of the best of the new generation of Old Time melodic Clawhammer banjo players. Recently he was selected as a winner in a national Clawhammer competition -- that featured 60 or 70 other capable players -- with his rendition of the tune "Boatman," a tune that's also featured on this new album, along with his Dad Ken's fiddle playing on the tune. But it is with his original compositions, such as "Skipping Rocks," that he most shines. Like many outstanding Old Time and Traditional musicians, he realizes full well that often it is that one simple, characteristic feature within a composed tune that differentiates it from all the others (such as an unusual measure or standout note in a given crooked Old Time tune]. Brad cleverly incorporates that distinctive feature into his composition "Skipping Rocks," where it's that unusual sixth-minor chord moving down to a five-chord that really makes the tune. Also, his Clawhammer technique is always clean on every tune. His growing up in such a musical household as well as his spending his college years around a number of exemplary Ithaca, NY, Old Time musicians -- as well as his own talent -- had to ensure that he would become an outstanding Clawhammer banjo and fiddle player (yes, he plays outstanding fiddle on the album too). With this second album, Brad sings as well on "Down On My Knees" (again with Ken's solid fiddle backup) and performs the best vocal rendition of "Red Rocking Chair" that many listeners will have ever heard; it's his quiet, lamenting version that makes it the genuinely sad song that it is on this album.

To have a “backup guitar player” of the caliber of Robin Bullock [of his own solo instrumental as well as Helicon fame] helping out adds to this album's uniqueness. His use of what experienced guitar players will recognize by sound to be Drop D tuning on "Lost Indian" really adds a powerful element to the tune and again helps make the version memorable.  Bullock’s chord progressions and voicings provide an additional and welcome modern dimension to the Kolodners’ Old (and new) Time Traditional sound.  Musician Alex Lacquement’s Traditional and Bowed Bass contributions are outstanding as well, as is the supporting work of background vocalist Kagey Parrish (of the Honey Dewdrops) and Scottish Fiddling Champion Elke Baker.

In addition to a number of “new Old Time” banjo and dulcimer compositions, such as the album title track, fans of Old Time music will enjoy this album for the renditions of a number of great Traditional tunes and songs, including the driving, forceful (and "Otter Creek-like and sounding") "Billy In the Lowground," "Falls of Richmond," "Reuben's Train," and a medley containing “Tombigbee Waltz.”  Listeners will also appreciate the outstanding technical qualities of the recording itself and the capturing of a crispness of sound that even makes Brad Kolodner’s banjo “clucks” audible.

All in all, this is one of the best "Old and New" Traditional Appalachian albums released since "Otter Creek" caught the ear of listeners just over three years ago. And it still will touch music fans everywhere  that a father and son not only can make music that sounds so good, but that they so obviously enjoy making such great music with each other and their music friends.

Overall Rating: 10

Grass Trax: Banjo play along

Submitted by five-string fever (see all reviews from this person) on 5/21/2014

Where Purchased: online

Overall Comments

I bought 5 songs from Grass Trax earlier this week to practice with. The songs are played at different speeds from 60 BPM to 130 BPM increasing at 10 BPM if you so choose (i.e. one 5 minute (more or less) long track at 60 BPM, the next one 5 minutes +/- at 70 BPM, etc...) with your instrument, in my case banjo,  pulled out of the mix. The rest of the mix is typical bluegrass instruments of guitar, bass, fiddle, mandolin and dobro. It also has a PDF file with the chords but I generally picked songs that I knew the chords and breaks to. I plugged my laptop into an external speaker (I also did an earbud in one ear at one point so I could hear my banjo with the other ear when I got booted out of my living room). I went to town on "Blue Ridge Cabin Home" for about 30 minutes increasing speed after playing the track +/- 5 minutes at a slower speed and going up 10 BPM until I just could not keep up. It seems like 120 BPM was my collapse point. Next Old Joe Clark then Red Haired Boy. Generally I just played breaks looping over and over although I did practice chord changes at different spots on the neck for Red Haired Boy. I have always been strong on chords and weak or at least slow on breaks so I focused on my weakness. I loved it so much I just bought a bunch more. If you already know the songs and are trying to increase your speed at playing them this works great and is only $1.99 a pop. I got a few songs that are on my "Must Learn" list I bought tonight as motivation to get off my rear end and learn the breaks.  I'll probably stick at the slower speeds until I get the new songs down pat but still beats practicing with a metronome IMHO. There are a lot of songs that I am good enough at that I will probably never start at the slowest speeds again but it never hurts to work on fundamentals as every music and sports coach has always told me. My two cents, hope it helps. YMMV.

Overall Rating: 10

John Hickman: Don't Mean Maybe

Submitted by Banjopera (see all reviews from this person) on 5/11/2014

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

This is absolutely essential listening for any banjo player.

One of the most important banjo albums ever released.

Released in 1978, with Byron Berline on fiddle, Dan Crary on guitar and John's brother, George, on bass, this album is pure banjo-driven brilliance.

Every track is a masterpiece.

No vocals, just instrumental perfection featuring John and his long-time collaborators on classics and self-penned tracks.

And the banjo is the lead instrument on every track.

Do yourself a favor.  Rediscover this (partly) forgotten gem.

It is my all-time favorite banjo album.


Overall Rating: 10

Curtis Eller's American Circus: How to Make It in Hollywood

Submitted by curtiseller (see all reviews from this person) on 2/17/2014

Where Purchased: Curtis Eller's American Circus

Overall Comments

Another Savagely Funny, Menacing Album from Curtis Eller

by delarue

As New York rents rise, the brain drain continues. Case in point: charismatic songwriter and banjo player Curtis Eller, who electrified audiences here from the mid-zeros through the early teens with his historically rich, phantasmagorical songs before leaving the city. Happily, he hasn’t given up on music. Eller’s back catalog is a savagely lyrical, surreal chronicle of some of the darker, more obscure moments in American history. Cruel ironies, double entendres and surprisingly subtle humor are everywhere in his songs, the music informed by oldtime swing and blues but not beholden to those traditions, sometimes menacing and morbid, sometimes gentle, sometimes furiously punked-out. Among songwriters, LJ Murphy is a good comparison – vintage vernacular, spot-on commentary on the here and now.

Eller’s also got a fantastic new album, How to Make It in Hollywood, which finds him taking a full-throttle detour into dark garage rock and classic soul music along with the oldtime sounds that made him one of New York’s most riveting live acts. The whole thing is streaming at his Bandcamp page. The opening track, Old Time Religion, is Eller at his brilliant best. Ostensibly it’s an oldtime gospel song but as it keeps going, it turns out that it’s a parody, complete with call-and-response vocals and organ. “Giving up my last chance, backsliding out the church dance, I’m gonna split the congregation, I’ve got the clap around me, dirty hands and that old time religion,” he drawls righteously.

1929 is sarcastic and anachronistic, early Chuck Berry taken back in time 25 years: this guy had a bad 1928 but he just can’t wait to see how good it’s going to be with Mr. Hoover in office! Eller works similar, bizarrrely pointed historical references into the oldschool soul ballad If You’re Looking for a Loser – which connects the dots between Robert E. Lee and Sonny Liston – and the considerably sadder, slower, more gospel-fueled Three More Minutes with Elvis as well as the wryly grim Busby Berkeley Funeral. And the final track, just solo vocals and banjo, is a very clever slap upside the head of the agribusiness cartel from a plainspoken guy down on the farm.

But the best songs here are the darkest and angriest. Butcherman begins witha bit of a calypso lilt and then becomes a soul shuffle. “I don’t want that filthy Chicago meat, take me down to Delancey and Essex Street,” Eller shouts out to his old Lower East Side stomping grounds: everybody else can have the preacher, but this guy knows that the butcher’s the one who really has his hands on the afterlife. Moses in the Bulrushes reverts to the hellfire apocalypticism throughout much of Eller’s music:

There’s a black crow circling over the North Pole
They got the satellite hooked up to the signal where it just don’t take
And this graveyard don’t have room for my skeleton, not tonight
Where there’s stormclouds going in but they just don’t break

The album’s best song is the eerily pulsing shuffle The Heart That Forgave Richard Nixon, with a riverbed grave, Cadillac stalled out on the tracks and Henry Kissinger shaking it all night long as a backdrop for this snarling parable of post-9/11 multinational fascism. There’s also Battlefield Amputation, the album’s loudest song, which sounds like Elvis Costello circa This Year’s Model, right down to the vocals and the torrents of indignant imagery. Along wth Eller on all the stringed instruments, Louis Landry plays drums and catchy, eclectic, often menacing organ, with Shea Broussard on bass, joining with Dana Marks to add soaring, often sardonic harmony vocals. It may be something of a crapshoot and an impossible task to say that one great album rates over the other great ones in a given year, but this one’s as good a candidate as any for number one with a bullet for 2014.

Overall Rating: 9

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