It used to be that the idea of a woman bluegrass musician was gimmick, like a horse that can count or a dog that can juggle four balls at once. But trailblazers including Allison Brown on banjo, Laurie Lewis on fiddle, and Sally Van Meter on dobro put that hoary old concept deep into a mossy grave. This is the 21st century. Kristin Scott Benson's sex is irrelevant to the fact that she can play the snot out of the banjo.
Second Season, as you might surmise from its title, is Benson's second solo release. Her first, Straight Paths, was released in 2002. Since then she has been busy touring with the Larry Stephenson Band and recording with Roland White, Jim Hurst, Rhonda Vincent, and Laurie Lewis. All this work contributed to her award from the IBMA as "2008 Banjo Player of The Year." Just recently she accepted a new job, playing banjo with The Grascals.
This brings us to her latest release, Second Season. Its twelve cuts include eight instrumentals and four vocal performances. Four of the instrumentals are Benson originals, yet unlike most solo albums, Benson doesn't sing on a single tune. Instead she concentrates on leading a band made up of top bluegrass musicians including Wayne Benson on mandolin, David Grier and Cody Kilby on guitar, Shad Cobb and Jim VanCleve on fiddle, and Mickey Harris, Sally Jones, Larry Cordle, and Larry Stephenson on vocals. In many ways this is a traditional album. Even though Benson is the bandleader her banjo parts take the time-honored role as pacesetter rather than solo star. Her solos are clean with perfect timing, but not flashy. In fact, if you heard this album blind without knowing whose album it was, I seriously doubt you'd guess the banjo player was the bandleader. Her husband, Wayne Benson, takes much flashier solos, as does David Grier, whose first solo on the opening cut, "Don't Tread On Me," will leave guitar players shaking their heads in amazement.
Kristin Scott Benson's Second Season is a grand way to appreciate a banjo player worthy of being included among the first tier of contemporary players. After a couple of listens I suspect you'll go looking for her first release as well.