Ken Perlman

Northern Banjo

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Ken Perlman's first album for the respected bluegrass and old-time music label Copper Creek finds him expanding both his own stylistic horizons and those of his new label. The repertoire here is not new to him -- Perlman has long championed the fiddle tunes of the northeastern U.S. and Canada's Maritime Provinces -- but the addition of electric bass, bouzouki, uillean pipes, and exotic percussion to the musical mix is new for Perlman, who has generally stuck to more austere and tradition-minded arrangements in his recorded work. The result is absolutely beautiful. Whereas most five-string banjo players use the instrument's shorter fifth string as a drone, Perlman tends to use it as just one more melody string, with the result that his playing can sometimes be lacking in rhythmic spring. But that approach does lend itself more to the jigs and hornpipes he loves to play, and even on the reels (and one bluegrass-y breakdown) his sweetly flowing lines and carefully crafted arrangements are a joy to hear. And when he lays down the banjo and picks up a guitar for a few finger-style settings of Irish and Scottish tunes, the sound is no less lovely. Highlights on this program include the heart-tugging guitar arrangement of "Niel Gow's Lament for His Second Wife," the intricately beautiful "Braes of Auchtertyre/Caber Feidh" set, and Perlman's own "Road to Mexico." Highly recommended.

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