Walt Koken

Hei-Wa Hoedown

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A former fiddler for the Fat City String Band and the Highwoods String Band in the early 1970s, Walt Koken left the music business for other ventures for some twenty years before emerging in the early 1990s with two fine banjo recordings on Rounder Records, Banjonique, and this one, Hei-Wa Hoedown. Mixing originals with traditional fare, Koken is a fine claw hammer banjo player who doesn't worry over little mistakes in his delivery, giving this release a wonderfully live, honest, back porch feel. Add in his aged-whiskey voice (Koken sings on maybe a half dozen of the tracks here -- the rest are instrumentals), and you have all the ingredients for an authentic-sounding Appalachian revisionist classic. Among the highlights here are Koken's rapid, bubbling version of "John Hardy," the delightfully surreal "Jaybird Town," and the unassuming rendition of "Going Across the Sea" that closes the album. While not quite as striking as Banjonique (but only by degree), Hei-Wa Hoedown is cut from the same cloth, and taken together, the two albums make a complete whole.

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