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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!

7014 reviews in the archive.

Michael Martin Murphey: Buckaroo Bluegrass II: Riding Song

Submitted by dlc on 11/27/2010

Where Purchased: Cowan

Overall Comments

“Buckaroo Bluegrass II: Riding Song” by Mi­chael Martin Murphey

The follow-up to Michael Martin Murphey’s Grammy Award-nominated “Buckaroo Bluegrass," “ Buckaroo Bluegrass II: Riding Song” is only bluegrass in the sense that it features all-acoustic bluegrass instrumentation — dobro, mandoline, fiddle, banjo — played by esteemed bluegrass pickers such as Sam Bush, Rob Ickes and Ronny McCoury.

But the songs — the lyrics and themes — come from along the wide Western trails Murphey has been riding so well since the 1980s, instead of the narrow bluegrass paths most ‘grass traditionalists prefer to travel.

With this treatment, a few of his older hits, such as “Backslider’s Wine,” “Cosmic Cowboy,” “Swans Against the Sun” and “Wildfire” will doubtlessly appear on the active songlists of conventional bluegrass bands, even though his overall sound is more from the Rocky Mountains than the Smoky Mountains, where bluegrass music was born.

“Wildfire” is especially engaging in this setting. Featuring golden-voiced Carrie Hassler soloing on the second verse, and adding her impeccable harmony to the already soaring chorus at the end, the beloved career-establishing classic has never sounded better. Or, at least it sounds as good (even my jazz and funk-loving friend, Uncle Turtle, likes it, and that amazes me).

At an age in which most artists of his stature are settling in to rest on their past achievements, with albums like “Buckaroo Bluegrass II,” Murphey just keeps exploring his musical interests and finding new and interesting ways to please the ever growing army of fans he makes along the way.

Overall Rating: 10

GET LOW Soundtrack: GET LOW Soundtrack

Submitted by dlc on 8/22/2010

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

“Get Low” Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, by Various Artists

The movie “Get Low” has been making the rounds at film festivals since December and is just now in limited release. It stars Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it captures every Oscar and Grammy Award it is sure to be nominated for.

The film is set in Tennessee in the 1930s and touts astounding visuals of the Depression-era Appalachians. But the music is absolutely stunning.

Contemporary artists such as Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas and The SteelDrivers bluegrass band sound amazing alongside period radio music from Bix Beiderbecke, The Ink Spots, Paul Whiteman and Gene Austin.

The soundtrack sets a mood that will be almost impossible to ignore, and will last long after the legendary tale of an aging hermit who comes to town to die — or, as he says, “get low” in his grave — ends.

The best movie soundtracks I’ve ever heard were for “The Man From Snowy River,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and maybe “Crazy Heart.” But the soundtrack from “Get Low” will easily take its place among, to me, the greats.

Overall Rating: 9

Dierks Bentley: Up On The Ridge

Submitted by dlc on 6/21/2010

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

"Up On The Ridge" by Dierks Bentley
I suspect most Dierks Bentley fans might not appreciate his new CD, "Up On The Ridge." But I do.
In a tribute to the sound he says he fell in love with as a teenager, Bentley has swapped the hard-driving mainstream radio country music that made him so famous for an equally hard-driving acoustic roots approach that I discovered when I finished growing up in Bentley's hometown of Phoenix.
It's not bluegrass, though there are definite bluegrass elements running throughout "Up On The Ridge." It's also not folk though, again, there is an obvious folksy undercurrent, especially on the story songs. It's not Old Time Country, even though there are Carter Family lyrics and other vintage cues in some of the music.
It's…it's different. It's music that proves earthy, acoustic instrumentation can be every bit as hard-hitting as any heavy-handed southern rock-based sound, and Bentley proves himself a budding master of it.
Along with guests like Miranda Lambert, the Punch Brothers (featuring mandolin mad man Chris Thile and bluegrass icon Del McCoury), Jamey Johnson and Kris Kristofferson, Dierks Bentley turns in an outstanding effort that should expand his name way beyond the strict confines of today's mainstream country music.
But he took a huge career gamble with "Up On The Ridge." With the possible exception of "Love Grows Wild," I don't hear any potential mainstream chart songs in the set, and that might turn some fans against him. But people who truly understand where country music came from and what it's all about should appreciate most of "Up On The Ridge," and find a place for it among their keepers.
I know I will.

Overall Rating: 8

Cherryholmes: Cherryholmes IV, Common Threads

Submitted by dlc on 5/28/2010

Where Purchased: Hastings

Overall Comments

"Cherryholmes IV, Common Threads" by Cherryholmes

California's Cherryholmes family band is technically a bluegrass group. With traditional acoustic bluegrass instrumentation, tight family vocal harmony and a musical outlook that doesn't quite fit anywhere else, the dynamic Grammy Award-winning outfit's music captures all the dirt road soul that made bluegrass one of the great homegrown American sounds.
But, as with groups like the Dixie Chicks, having fiddle and banjo among your primary instruments does not automatically make you some kind of hayseed cliché.
On their new album, "Cherryholmes IV, Common Threads," the six-member family offers up another rich and varied tapestry of downhome acoustic textures and moods, and they keep the music absolutely fresh and new without ever compromising on its solid traditionalism.
From the hard-driving groove of "The Harder I Fall" to the laidback blues of "Changed In A Moment" to the infectious swing of "Just You," there's not a weak track in the set. And if there's any skepticism about the family being top-notch pickers, the undoubted virtuosity of the all-out instrumental "Tattoo Of A Smudge" should lay any doubts to rest.
Not bad for a band whose members had never even had acoustic string instruments such as guitar, mandolin, fiddle and banjo in their hands ten years ago.
But to call it bluegrass is to turn some country fans off to what the Cherryholmes family really does, which is to create some of the most interesting and listenable acoustic music around.
Outstanding album.

Overall Rating: 9

Mark O'Connor: Jam Session

Submitted by dlc on 5/28/2010

Where Purchased: Hastings

Overall Comments

“Jam Session” by Mark O’Connor
Put a half dozen of the most gifted acoustic pickers there are around a microphone and tell them to play anything they want, and the results are bound to be astounding.
“Jam Session,” by Mark O’Connor, along with mandolin madman Chris Thile, guitar wizards Frank Vignola and Bryan Sutton and upright bass mainstays Jon Burr and Byron House, captures nine amazing live instrumental jams in a variety of theater and festival settings, and the raw musicianship is absolutely beyond belief.
But even as complicated and technical as the music is in spots, it’s still entertaining enough that even most casual acoustic music fans can appreciate it. “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” “Pickles On The Elbow,” “Granny White Special,” “In The Cluster Blues,” the guys can almost read each other’s minds and respond instantly with just the right licks.
Mighty good picking!

Overall Rating: 8

Willie Nelson: Country Music

Submitted by dlc on 5/28/2010

Where Purchased: Hastings

Overall Comments

“Country Music” by Willie Nelson
Always on the lookout for something new and different to play, Willie Nelson teamed up with Oscar-winning music wizard T Bone Burnett for his new bluegrass-flavored collection, “Country Music.” Together, the two tapped the talents of the acoustic super-picking crew that made the Allison Krauss/Robert Plant gem “Raising Sand” the hottest set in recorded music a few years back.
But, even as a Willie fan and an acoustic Americana fan, I can’t say I’m impressed with the results.
Oh, the music is absolutely superb on longtime favorites like “Dark As A Dungeon,” “I Am A Pilgrim,” “Seaman’s Blues” and “Freight Train Boogie,” and Nelson’s aging vocal approach is just getting more and more expressive as time goes by. And Nelson’s new song for the album, “Man With The Blues,” could easily become one of those non-hit classics that everyone knows and likes, even if they don’t know why.
The problem is that, even as good as both are, Willie’s voice just doesn’t fit with the earthy backup music. I don’t know if it’s because we’re just so used to hearing him in his own band setting, or what, but there’s a stylistic clash here that I just can’t get past.
Good songs, good playing, good singing, but “Country Music” just doesn’t quite gel.

Overall Rating: 5

The Grascals: The Famous Lefty Flynn's

Submitted by dlc on 5/28/2010

Where Purchased: Hastings

Overall Comments

“The Famous Lefty Flynn’s” by The Grascals
In a short six years, The Grascals have become one of the hottest tradition-leaning groups in bluegrass music. Their new album, “The Famous Lefty Flynn’s,” shows why.
Hot picking, solid vocals and a knack for expertly placing non-traditional material into an authentic bluegrass setting, without the whole thing sounding like an awkward, silly mess, is a hallmark of the band, and songs such as “Out Comes The Sun,” “Satan And Grandma,” “Last Train To Clarksville” and the title track showcase that knack once again.
It’s a definite keeper.

Overall Rating: 8

Sons And Brothers: Measure Of A Man

Submitted by dlc on 5/28/2010

Where Purchased: Western Jubilee

Overall Comments

“Measure Of A Man” by Sons And Brothers
For bluegrass fans looking for a little change of pace, “Measure Of A Man,” by Colorado’s western-leaning Sons And Brothers, could be just the thing.
The five members of the Wolking clan show off some splendid bluegrass vocal and instrumental chops on a delightfully varied set of cowboy-themed songs.
Available from Western Jubilee Recording Company (Michael Martin Murphey’s label), “Measure Of A Man” can get to be habit forming.

Overall Rating: 8

The Chapmans: Grown Up

Submitted by dlc on 5/28/2010

Where Purchased: publicist

Overall Comments

“Grown Up” by The Chapmans
Another Colorado-born family group, The Chapmans have spent almost two decades carving themselves an impressive niche in big-league bluegrass music. Their new album, “Grown Up,” offers plenty of the strong-flavored traditional string music of the mountains they are known for. And with Rhonda Vincent along for a charming duet on “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” the band absolutely shines in world-class bluegrass style.

Overall Rating: 8

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