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Bluegrass Unlimited - Ian Simpson & John Kane - The Banjo: Misunderstood Maligned MagicIAN SIMPSON, JOHN KANE
ABC Music

Australia is the home to one of the best mandolin makers on Earth, so should it be a surprise that it also has some mighty fine banjo pickers there, too? Well, as this CD aptly demonstrates, it does. Simpson and Kane both play, one in bluegrass style and the other in a clawhammer style. They are both facile and know how to arrange a tune for the ultimate result. There are medleys of rags (“The Entertainer” and “Maple Leaf Rag”), medleys of mule tunes, a Scruggs medley of “Earl’s Breakdown,” “Dear Old Dixie,” and “Flint Hill Special,” and a medley of classical pieces from Bach and Beethoven. And, they all display consummate skill and, at times, a touch of humor. In between, we are treated to mostly banjo-only versions of bluegrass and old-time tunes that are nearly textbook perfect renditions. That is not to infer there is a lack of spontaneity or improvisation in these performances. There is plenty of that. The banjo duet on “Cluck Old Hen” is great, with lots of strangeness of the very best kind.

There is guitar and bass accompaniment to most tracks, with some fiddle and piano where appropriate. These performances are amazing. All of you aspiring banjo pickers and serious fans of the banjo out there need to hear this CD. It is full of great tunes and strong arrangements. It is great to hear the wide variety of music, tastefully done on the banjo. (Universal Music, 3 Munn Reserve, Millers Point, NSW, P.O. Box 17, Australia, abcmusic.com.au.) RCB