Author: Varner, Marty

Don't be afraid to skip the songs that bore you.

At the beginning of the month, I was glancing through new bluegrass releases, wondering what album would be the most joy to listen to and then review. When I saw that Trischka had released his new album, Great Big World, I thought it could be an option, but it wasn’t something that stuck out to me. I looked at the track list to see if the CD was all instrumentals, and what I saw came as a shock. While Trischka is known for putting together good bands, the special guests he had on this album were mind blowing. The names a saw across the page that specifically stuck out were: Michael Daves, the soulful singer and guitar player who is now known for partnering up with Chris Thile for brother duets; Mike Compton, the man; and John Goodman? Yes John Goodman! When I saw the impressive list of pickers and singers to compliment Trischka I thought, “how could this go wrong?” I was partially right. The album is full of great songs played by wonderful musicians, but like many instrumental albums or albums featuring an instrumentalist, the album has too many episodes and goes through numerous lulls. I would assume that the ability to play banjo would really help me grasp and enjoy this album more, but that doesn’t undermine the fact that the lyrical songs are just better in general.

The first track on the album starts hot. With a muted mando chop as percussion, Trischka just goes off for about half a minute before the lyrics for the song, “Say Goodbye” ensue. The lyrics are pretty generic, but the melody is insanely cool and Michael Daves sings it so well. The chorus begins with diamonds moving up a half step each time, which I think was pretty innovative and bluesy.

The second track, featuring Michael Daves and Mike Compton is one of my favorites on the album. It has a smooth calming 1-4-5 progression along with having that children’s song type vibe. I am not aware, whether the song,”Do Re Mi” is new or an old timey song, but they were either inspired by old-timey music and the fun care-free nature that has been known to along with it.

Then out of nowhere the next three tracks, including one with different movements are all instrumentals. If this were an album for a band instead of an instrumentalist it would be a rule of thumb not to do that. It only makes it worse that each of them are 4-5 minutes long. Out of this part of the album I actually did enjoy “Single String Melody...” especially “ole Shakey” which is a blues melody that Trischka plays all on one string. The melody is the very dark, yet has an infectious groove that makes the listener want to nod their heads. Another one of these songs features Steve Martin, which will be great for album sales as well as banjo fans who actually realize that Martin is not only incredibly talented as a comedic actor.

Even though the song as been done every which way, I still enjoyed Trischka’s version of “Angelina Baker”. On this version Trischka decided to have a male and female singer and have them respond back and forth, what makes this so cool is that Aoife O’ Donovan is the female singer. While her voice is beautiful on anything does, it sounds angelic on this song. Every note she sings seems to be pristine and in such a tone that it makes you happy just to hear her. Needless to say I have a little crush on her, but thats irrelevant.

Now I bet some of you read this because you saw that John Goodman was on a bluegrass album. On the song “Wild Bill Hickok” it is in fact John Goodman having the voice cameo near the end of the song. This story song, sung by Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, is almost exponentially improved John Goodman and how his voice fits so well for the purpose that Trischka had in mind. I mean how often will you hear John Goodman say, “Wanted: A man for Marshall with the skin of a rhinoceros”?

This inconsistent album is worth a listen if you are not afraid to skip songs that bore you.

Posted:  3/1/2014

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