Tony Trischka has long been known as a banjo innovator. With this CD, he returns to a contemporary bluegrass style to present a series of duets with a number of banjo legends. Some have influenced Trischka, while others have clearly been influenced by him. The term “double banjo” (aka “twin banjo”) refers to a tightly arranged duet style that has been around for some time (an early version, featuring Eric Weisberg and Marshall Brickman, was repackaged as the soundtrack for the film “Deliverance”.
This CD features a wide range of banjo styles and techniques (I should add that the “other” instruments showcase some incredible picking…guitars and mandolins abound---big surprise on a bluegrass album), but what impresses most is the sheer power of the playing and the effortless shifts in style. Let’s take a look at some key tracks;
“Farewell Blues”. Teacher and pupil come together in this duet with the “Father of Bluegrass”, Earl Scruggs (sad that many people think of him in connection with the “Ballad of Jed Clampett”, a guilty pleasure from the old TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies”. Scruggs’ three-finger style soars on this jazz/blues standard.
“Fox on the Run”. Yep…that’s the Manfred Mann hit from the late sixties, albeit in a “slightly” different arrangement. This duet of Tonys (Trischka and Adams) uses the sam chord structure as the Mann version…sand while it’s a strange inclusion here, it works!
There’s a number of duets with contemporary banjo idol, Bela Fleck (this guy has taken the banjo about as far as I can imaginge---check out some of his solo recordings). All three Fleck duets are standouts. Fleck is probably Trischka’s best known students. “Twilight Kingdom” is the longest cut on the CD and has a supporting cast featuring members of Union Station. “The Ivory Toad of Catalan” is downright pretty and shows off a few different styles, since it is essentially a piece made up of song snippets that each had lying around. “Armando’s Children” is the only piece without any backing…just two banjos---a must listen with some decent headphones…you can hear the attacks.
There’s even a couple of duets with Steve Martin of “Let’s Get Small” fame…the comedian has always been an accomplished banjo picker (I assume there were no balloons and arrows worn during this recording although one can never be too sure). “The Crow” is just a happy tune---I dare you to listen to this without smiling a little. “Plunkin’ Rag” carries a warning to any musician that might be playing along..”Don’t try to harmonize the tuner section. It’s impossible without overdubs.”
While “all star” groupings are always somewhat suspect, “Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular” is the exception. It features some incredibly complex playing and looks like it was fun to be involved in the sessions. If you like banjo playing…this is a solid compendium of contemporary styles.