Mark Schatz

Steppin' in the Boiler House

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Listening to banjo player Mark Schatz cut loose on "Big Root," it's easy to imagine he learned the song from some old-time banjo player years ago. It's a surprise, then, to learn that Schatz wrote this -- and most of the other songs -- on the album. It's also a surprise to learn that Schatz, known for his clawhammer banjo style, was born in 1955, making him fairly young for someone interested in the older styles of music. He's joined on Steppin in the Boiler House by bassist Missy Raines, guitarist Jim Hurst, and fiddler Casey Driessen, plus a number of well-known guests including Tim O'Brien and Jerry Douglas. These guest appearances also point to the fact that while Schatz may enjoy traditional roots music, he nonetheless keeps himself open for new sounds. With "The Falling Waters of Arden," for instance, he captures a lovely, gentle mood, and his banjo work is much closer to new acoustic music than to bluegrass. This is also true of "Eileen's Waltz," though the "waltz" timing gives the instrumental a traditional feel. While there are fine vocals on Steppin in the Boiler House (O'Brien does a nice job with "Last Old Dollar"), it's instrumentals like "Season of Joy" and "Calgary" that really stand out. Schatz has avoided the sophomore slump on Steppin in the Boiler House, and delivered another fine album for acoustic music fans.

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