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Tony Trischka
Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular

Review By Steven Stone
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  If you have more than a passing acquaintance with the banjo you've probably heard of Tony Trischka. During his 35-year career he has played with Tony Rice, Mike Marshall, Darol Anger, Jerry Douglas, and David Grisman. Trischka is also credited as Bela Fleck's banjo teacher. Although he started as a bluegrass picker in the style of Earl Scruggs, Trischka soon grew past bluegrass into newgrass, jazz, and acoustic fusion music. He's a founding member of the band Psychograss. The band's moniker says it all.

On his latest release Trischka has returned to his bluegrass roots, more or less. He invited nine different banjo players to collaborate with him. Featured players include Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, Alison Brown, Tom Adams, Bill Emerson, Kenny Ingram, Noam Pikelny, Scott Vestal, and Steve Martin (yeah, the one with white hair and the arrow through his head). The back-up band for this series of sessions included Sam Bush, Chris Thile, Barry Mitterhoff, David McLaughlin, and Mike Compton on mandolin, Kenny Smith, Tim Stafford, Dudley Connell, David Grier, and Tony Rice on guitar, Rickie Simpkins, Stuart Duncan, Ron Stewart, and Sam Bush on fiddle, Byron House, Jim Whitney, Marshall Wilborn, and Barry Bales on bass, and Michael Daves, Dudley Connell, and Lou Reid on vocals.

Although this isn't the first time that two banjos have shared the same stage at the same time, it is the first time in recent recorded history a whole CD has been devoted to the exercise. You have to go back to the early 1970's Country Cooking albums to find Tony Trischka and Pete Wernick combining forces in what is often referred to as "twin banjo" style. On Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular Trischka goes from traditional tunes such as "Farewell Blues" with Earl Scruggs to the outer limits of acoustic music with Bela Fleck on the Trischka original, "Ivory Toad of Catalan" and Fleck's "Armando's Children." Although the CD's title indicates a strong bias toward banjos, every song is far more about ensemble collaboration than continuous banjo noodling. Ample fiddle, mandolin, and guitar solos keep listeners from going banjo crazy.

With six different recording studios, seven different recording engineers, and two mixing engineers, mastering engineer Toby Mountain had his hands full trying to give the album a cohesive sonic signature, but he succeeded. Every cut has natural yet articulate sonics that let the personality of each player and instrument come through clearly. Banjos often get a bad rap as sounding "jangly," but on Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular you can hear how melodic and even mellow a banjo be.

Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular is recommended for all acoustic music connoisseurs, even those who are banjo-phobic. It will cure what ails you.

 

 

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