John Kruth's music is definitely an acquired taste. Eccentric, quirky, angular, and humorously abstract, the Midwestern singer/songwriter doesn't go out of his way to be accessible. But for those who can accept Kruth on his own terms, Banshee Mandolin offers many rewards. Like other Kruth efforts, this 1991 session isn't easy to categorize. Banshee Mandolin could be described as alternative pop/rock and alternative folk-rock (depending on the song), but unlike most rockers, Kruth hasn't hesitated to claim jazz great Rahsaan Roland Kirk as a major influence. And even though Kruth isn't a jazz artist per se -- even though he doesn't scat-sing John Coltrane and Yusef Lateef melodies on this CD -- one can tell that the more abstract forms of jazz have influenced his work. Kruth has been influenced by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, and the Beatles, but he isn't as accessible as those rockers; instead, he combines his folk-rock and British Invasion influences with the angularity and abstraction of avant-garde jazz. And like Kirk, Kruth doesn't think twice about moving from one instrument to another. The mandolin is his main instrument on Banshee Mandolin, but he is also heard on banjo, dulcimer, harmonica, flute, and kazoo. Like many of the post-bop and avant-garde jazz artists he admires, Kruth can be self-indulgent -- although not in a mindless, aimless way. Kruth, for all his eccentricity, is quite musical. There is a method to his madness, just as there is a method to Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman's madness. But again, Kruth isn't one to make a lot of compromises in order to be more accessible. Only those who can accept Kruth's excesses -- or perhaps even enjoy them -- will be able to fully appreciate Banshee Mandolin.
Banshee Mandolin Review
by Alex Henderson