Howie Bursen

Banjo Manikin

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Howie Bursen may strike many as something of a renaissance mountain man: he plants vineyards, designs and builds wineries, and in his spare moments, plays old-time music. His last album for Folk-Legacy was recorded some years ago, but that doesn't mean Bursen has lost his love for music. In fact, the wonderful songs and jigs on Banjo Manikin provide a clue to this lackadaisical approach to recording. The easygoing pace of "Jay & Molly's Wedding" and "Pretty Saro" introduce the listener to a whole other way of living. Bursen's banjo seems to never have caught the bluegrass bug and is perfectly content playing intricate lines at a leisurely pace. He calls attention to his influences on "Tommy Thompson" and "For Pete's Sake," two gentle instrumentals honoring Thompson from the Red Clay Ramblers and folksinger Pete Seeger. Bursen is joined on various tunes by fiddler Jay Ungar, bassist Molly Mason, and pianist Bob Pasquarello. This group falls into a relaxed old-time groove, clearly comfortable in one another's company. Tunes like "Maya's Bounce" fit snuggly with antiques like "Wild Bill Jones" and listeners shouldn't bypass charming oddities like "Sally's Upstairs With the Hogeyed Man." Banjo Manikin is a low-key, laid-back effort that unfolds in a world without telephones, the six o'clock news, or any other signs of progress. To truly enjoy it requires no more than a quiet afternoon and perhaps -- to promote the proper mood -- a bottle from one of Bursen's vineyards. This well-made album will please old-time music fans, banjo pickers, and the curious.

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