Various Artists

Blue Ridge Mountain Banjo

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The fiery three-finger banjo picking style that was perfected (though not invented) by Earl Scruggs in the early '40s transformed the sound of country music and, when Scruggs joined the band of bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe, became the signature sound of bluegrass, making it instantly recognizable to listeners all over the world. Scruggs-style banjo remains one of America's favorite musical sounds, and it has developed and branched out in various substyles: the "melodic" style developed by Tony Trischka and Bill Keith, the jazzy single-string style of Don Reno, and the even jazzier innovations of banjo wunderkind Béla Fleck, among others. This compilation of banjo showcases tunes from the catalog of the Pinecastle label and stays fairly close to traditional bluegrass styles, though the legendary Eddie Adcock does jazz things up with his Don Reno-on-caffeine performance of "Mangadang," and Scott Vestal's "Polka on a Banjo" is a novelty tune based on old polka melodies. Scruggs himself appears (performing with both Sonny Osborne and the late John Hartford) on a very nice arrangement of the A.P. Carter favorite "Foggy Mountain Top." But the most interesting performance of the program comes from Mark Johnson, who has successfully adapted the older clawhammer banjo style to bluegrass, dubbing his approach "clawgrass." This is a fine overview for lovers of America's only indigenous instrument.

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