Various Artists

Feuding Banjos: Revenge of the Citybillys

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Feuding Banjos: Revenge of the Citybillys draws tracks from two earlier releases, 1963's Anthology of the Banjo from Tradition and 1973's Feuding Banjos from Olympic Records (both Tradition and Olympic were imprints of Everest Records), and in truth, the material gathered here has been on the market in various configurations for years. The organizing principle this time around is the city kids who fell in love with old-time banjo tunes and styles and attempted to interpret them for a new generation during the great urban folk boom of the 1960s. But the tracks collected here aren't old-time banjo music exactly, but more like an approximation of it, with a much greater emphasis placed on speed (no doubt due to the heavy influence of bluegrass) and individuality than one generally sees in the older rural players, who had little use for innovation for innovation's sake. So, it isn't old-timey, but it is certainly informed by it, and pieces here by Dick Weissman (his fast, bright-as-a-diamond version of the fiddle tune "Old Joe Clark" is astounding), Mason Williams (yes, the "Classical Gas" guy, whose "Whistle While You Work" here is a similar pastiche in miniature), and Eric Weissberg (his version of Arthur Smith and Don Reno's "Feuding Banjos" became the template for "Dueling Banjos," the theme song for the 1972 movie Deliverance) have a light, airy charm that echoes the past even as it prefigures the "jazz grass" movement that would emerge with later players like Béla Fleck, Tony Trischka, and Tony Furtado. The end result is a charming, low-key (but fast-paced) banjo album that will delight fans of the instrument, piss off the purists, and leave most listeners wondering why no one here plays "Orange Blossom Special."

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