By: Sarah Moore
"It's like the banjo chose me…I didn't really have a say in the matter." - Tony Trischka
Tony Trischka's latest album, Territory (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings), is nothing short of his usual standards, i.e. brilliant and beautiful. Twenty-one tracks constitute the banjo virtuoso's latest release, surveying the various formats in which the banjo has appeared and the directions the banjo can take a song. From Appalachian fiddle tunes to Mike Seeger's pre-bluegrass picking, Territory exemplifies in a pristine recording how varied the American instrument can sound.
In the course of the album, Trischka pairs his banjo with the likes of Bill Evans, Mike and Pete Seeger and Bill Keith. Several selections include hybrids of old-time and bluegrass with Trischka's current touring band - Brittany Haas (fiddle), Michael Davies (vocals, guitar) and Skip Ward (bass). Trischka's liner notes show the exact tuning for each song and provide background on every tune. Also included in the notes are two pieces written by Bob Carlin, a famous clawhammer banjo player, one which outlines the extensive album and "A Short History of the Banjo."
"Fox Chase," a rowdy hoedown piece, begins the disc on a brisk, fiddle-heavy note. The tune, played by his touring band, pretty much sets the stage for the depth of banjo scope here. Trischka pairs his own compositions with his take on influential old-time standard. Pete Seeger's dry and wavering vocals lead "Leatherwing Bat," and the spooky quality of Pete's voice alongside his and Trischka's minor-chord heavy, enveloping banjos and weeping fiddle (Bruce Molsky) make this tune unusually catchy.
Twelve tracks are Trischka playing solo banjo, including "Hawaii-slide-O," a self-describing tune Trishcka wrote to perform on NPR show The Next Big Thing. "Sean," written for his son, involves a contrast of intervals wherein Trischka's gorgeous banjo sounds like many. "Gourd Banza," another song slated for The Next Big Thing, features Trischka on the banza, a gourd banjo of African origin. Obviously such an in-depth, detailed and complicated work can only be surveyed in a review. The album, though, is an enjoyable listen, whether one learns the facts behind its making or not.
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