Banjo Barons

Banjo Party

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The best thing about this album is the idea of a "banjo party." Now that is something to run with, especially for banjo players. The unenlightened might assume an album such as this would only be of interest to banjo players on their way to a banjo party, but nothing is farther from the truth. The first group of individuals on the face of the earth that should be kept away from this album is banjo players. As for who the album would appeal to, one wonders. What kind of music is this? At one point, the All Music Guide entry on the group the Banjo Barons indicated that this was a rock group, but playing the style of traditional bluegrass. This was obviously a mistake, as the group does neither. In terms of an accurate label for the music, the closest thing would be a word that is more comfortable in horror literature, or the description of a murder scene: ghastly. Some bloodhounds find their way to this album not through the banjo, but by following the trail of esoteric producer and composer Teo Macero, known for his close involvement with innovative Miles Davis albums. Well, nothing could be farther from Bitches Brew than this album, although they do freakily share the same producer, Teo Macero. Just bear in mind that the credit of "producer" is about as vague in terms of describing actual responsibilities and tasks or commitment to an acceptable end result as "mother" or "father," and proceed accordingly. The individual perhaps most responsible for what happens on this album is Marty Manning, credited as both arranger and conductor, as he is on a long string of sessions for fine vocalists such as Perry Como, Tony Bennett, and Brenda Lee. What Manning orchestrates here is a series of medley pieces in which some three dozen themes are visited in just over a half an hour, meaning this group has more in common with the Circle Jerks than Miles Davis, anyway. The only other musician who is credited here is Al Chernet, whose discography lists mostly credits as a guitarist but in diverse genres such as Latin, country, and R&B. He doesn't seem to be much of a banjo player, and apparently took the instrument out from under his bed only to provide a suitable sound for a stage show set in the Roaring '20s. The album jacket mentions that Chernet also played on the soundtrack to the film When Comedy Was King. There's where bells go off. This was a tacky collection of silent film comedy sequences treated to condescending sound effects and ticky-tack instrumental music, often featuring banjo. Alot of the music on this album will remind the listener of such bad silent film music, or the musical soundtrack to a really low budget cartoon from the '80s. Both Manning and Macero probably took care of some favors with this production: It is a large orchestra, and everyone seems to be playing at once all the time. Listen closely, and one might hear a wee bit of banjo now and then, played plectrum style.