Various Artists

Traditional Banjo Music of the Ozarks [Legacy]

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The material gathered here has been on the market in various configurations for years under several different titles, including Traditional Banjo Music of the Ozarks (releases from both Collectables and Legacy), Banjo Jamboree, and Feuding Banjos. This is hardly traditional music from the Ozarks, though, as the presence of titles like Roger McGuinn's "Banjo Cantata" and Art Podell's "Hindu Stomp" makes clear. What it is instead is a set of recordings made in the early '60s by young urban folk revivalists using traditional Southern mountain material as a jumping-off point, which means that the tracks collected here aren't old-timey 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 any open-minded 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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