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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!

7071 reviews in the archive.

Josh Graves: Bluegrass Bluesman

Submitted by drew-gurbach on 6/15/2015

Where Purchased: Online

Overall Comments

Some time back someone on the BHO mentioned this book, Bluegrass Bluesman, Josh Graves, A Memoir.  I ordered it online, but admittedly, it sat on the coffee table a long time before a perfect opportunity came for me to finally read it.

My Dad passed away and we were getting ready to sell the house.  I had to spend a night there due to frozen pipes, so I decided that since I was staying up all night, I should take a book:  Bluegrass Bluesman.

The book is basically a narrative of Josh Graves, long time dobro player for Flatt & Scruggs and later Lester Flatt, reminiscing of his childhood, developmental years, and music experiences throughout his life.  It's not overly edited... it's written exactly as I suppose he was speaking.  Some sentences start out working towards one thought, then get slightly derailed with other thoughts, then return back to the original premise.  But again, isn't that the way we talk sometimes?

As i was reading, it actually seemed as if Josh were talking to me.  A Pulitzer prize classic it's not.  But it is a simple, down home connection of a very talented man, telling his story, in his words, in his way.  I was also interested in his stories of all the musicians he worked with over the years.  He wasn't cruel or didn't toss any dirt... but he was honest about his experiences. There's also a lot of footnotes throughout.  The Editor, Fred Bartenstein, adds notes to Josh's narratives necessarily.  Josh would tell stories and reference people, places, events, and the reader would have no idea what is being referenced without these footnotes.  A necessary addition by the editor.

I enjoyed this book. The only challenged I had was switching between editors preface, and the body of the Josh Grave's narratives.  The editor, Neil Rosenberg, writes amazing prefaces to every chapter.  Well written, amazing fluidness... really gives you a "set up" to what you are about to read.  But then, when you get to the Josh narratives... it's almost like you have to take a step back and realize that what you are reading is more like a home-spun "talk".  After a couple chapters, I recognized this, and was able to make the mental-gear-switch.

It's a fun book.  If you got an afternoon and are a Josh or Flatt & Scruggs fan, get it. 

Overall Rating: 7

Roger H. Siminoff: How to Set Up the Best Sounding Banjo

Submitted by drew-gurbach on 3/12/2015

Where Purchased: Amazon

Overall Comments

I didn’t buy this book to become a luthier, but I figured since I’ve been playing banjo for over forty years it’d be a good idea to have a working knowledge and understanding of the finer intricacies of the banjo above basic setup.  Very well written and easy to understand.  I also had a eureka moment while picking banjo one night while watching TV.  I was in a particularly reclined and relaxed position.  I could actually see the TV screen reflect off of my clear banjo head.  I noticed the head vibrated only on a particular note… then I remembered the author talking about head-tuning and how you DON’T want it happening on frequently played notes (i.e. NOT D, G, B, etc.).  So I started picking one note at a time from the low D string up the neck.  I don’t remember exactly what note the vibration was evident (it’s been a long time), but it wasn’t on a frequently played note. Its little things like that which brings you to a higher understanding of what is sometimes a very complicated instrument.

Overall Rating: 10

Janet Davis: The Ultimate Banjo Songbook

Submitted by drew-gurbach on 12/24/2010

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

I bought this book a couple years ago. I’m a “seasoned” banjo picker of about 40 years now. I saw this book and TWO CD’s and songs I never would have thought about playing…so, I bought the book. The book clearly lays out tabs and accompanying CD’s so you can hear exactly what is written. I was also impressed with the “progression” of the same song through different styles and levels. I’m NOT sure it’s a great book for beginners, however. I think it’s great for intermediate players who can “glean” snippets to enhance their personal playing. I fear beginners might get caught up in playing Janet’s style and not develop their own as they progress. I have to give this book multiple ratings: Low for beginners, High for intermediate players, and High for experienced.

Overall Rating: 7

Flatt & Scruggs: F& S at Carnegie Hall

Submitted by drew-gurbach on 12/31/2007

Where Purchased: FYE

Overall Comments

Years ago, before I ever started playing Bluegrass, my Grandfather (in an influential way I think) “loaned” me his cherished LP of Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs at Carnegie Hall. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was an abridged version of a much longer and variety filled concert. So the years passed, I played the album over and over until it developed cracks, warped, and became so scratched that it nearly hit the end of it’s serviceable life. And with the advent of CD players, it all but became retired as a relic of a past time and place. Fast forward to the late 90’s and I stumbled on a CD with the same record jacket art (unmistakable to my endearing eye) and I bought it immediately! I took it home and enjoyed all those wonderful sounds I heard as a youngster, but now with amazing clarity. I also was pleasantly surprised to hear a number of tracks NOT included on the original LP. The CD of this 1963 recording sounds like it was done yesterday…it’s that good, and it’s a classic. If I had to be critical of anything it would be that Lester’s introductions of songs later on in the concert become a little predictable and unimaginative. The songs are also pretty short and sometimes a little repetitive. But one thing is for certain, it’s a wonderful piece of history for anyone to add to their collection. Find it, buy it, and enjoy it!

Overall Rating: 10

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