The title Say Old Man, Can You Play the Banjo? demands a response from the listener, and the answer is a resounding "yes" -- Carroll Best can play the banjo and play it well. But it isn't so much that he is proficient on the banjo; many musicians play Scrugg's style and claw-hammer banjo well. Best's style stands out because it is based on a lesser-known method of converting fiddle tunes to the banjo. This finger-style banjo, like finger-style guitar, consists of intricate single notes strung together, creating a rich melodic base. These recordings represent the best of Best, who recorded very little commercial music. The upbeat first cut, "Lonesome Road Blues," may strike the listener as bluegrass, but Best considered himself an old-time player. This makes sense when one listens to "Tom and Jerry" or "Whiskey Before Breakfast." The music is danceable and tuneful, but lacks the incessant drive of bluegrass. There is a nice, long version of "Angeline the Baker," a spunky take on "Chicken Reel," and a ragtime-flavored "Little Rock Getaway." Best is joined by a number of good musicians, including guitarist Danny Johnson who adds his exuberant flatpicking to the first six tracks. Most of the tunes are short, allowing an amazing number (36) to grace this album. Frank Godbey's liner notes offer a good description of Best's banjo style as well as interesting speculation about his influence on other players during the '50s and '60s. For Best fans, banjo fans, and lovers of old-time music, this CD will be a real find.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.