David E. Schenkman
P.O. Box 2866
La Plata, MD 20646
Mark Johnson and Emory Lester
The Dick Smith ~ Mike O'Reilly Band
Smith ~ Mike O'Reilly Band
Well, Ray Hesson has
done it again!
If you know Ray, or own any of
his previous CDs, you probably aren't reading this. By now you've
skipped down to the last paragraph to learn how to order his
latest effort, Sunrise. But, if his name is not familiar
to you, read on.
To me, Ray isn't just a great
banjo player. He's one of these people who studies the instrument,
and uses it to serve his creative objectives. This is evident
in his selection of material, and the way in which he performs
You won't find much "standard"
bluegrass material on this disc. Instead, Ray mines other genres
of music and makes them his own. He does render his own versions
two popular fiddle tunes, "Red Wing" and "Black
You will probably recognize tunes
such as "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise," "Stars
and Stripes Forever," "San Antonio Rose," and
"Wait 'til the Sun Shines Nelly." On the other hand,
the four following numbers are Hesson originals: "Centipede
Shuffle," "Big Hillbilly Breakdown," "Butterfly
Bounce," and "Opus #5 in G for Strings." I can
assure you Ray's renditions are as intriguing as the titles.
"Dixie House Rag," a tune written by Keith Arneson,
another great Washington, D.C. area picker, is handled in fine
style by Ray. I could tell you about the other five songs on
the CD, but doing so would serve no purpose.
Ray mixes picking styles fluidly
and with authority. That, combined with his eclectic choice of
material, makes for a most enjoyable listening experience. He
is supported by a stellar cast of musicians, including David
Grier on guitar, Akira Otsuka on mandolin, Mike Auldridge on
dobro, and several others.
To order your copy of Sunrise, send $15.00 to Ray Hesson,
16801 Swanson Road Spur, Upper Marlboro, MD 20774. But before
doing so, I hope you'll read the review of Ray's other CDs below
and consider ordering them also.
was nominated for two Grammy awards in 2004, and youll
know why when you listen to his latest tour de force. The CD
is titled Taylor Made, and Todd sets the mood on the first
cut with a very imaginative arrangement of Foggy Mtn. Special.
From there he serves up ten more tunes, ranging from standards
-- Dixie Breakdown, Shuckin The Corn,
and John Hardy -- to tunes such as El Cumbanchero
and Stairway To Heaven which are normally not associated
with the banjo. Three of the pieces are originals that were written
No matter what the tune, Todd
adds his own special touch by seamlessly and creatively mixing
Scruggs, melodic, and single string styles. The result is a CD
that I found most enjoyable. I think you will also!
To learn more about Todd, and
to order this and other Todd Taylor albums, visit his website.
Taylor's Blazin Bluegrass Banjo is indeed just that
Todd and his twin brother Allen enjoyed a long performance history.
were featured on Hee-Haw as the Taylor Twins, and also performed
on the Grand Ole Opry in addition to numerous other venues. Several
years ago the twins split up, and Todd has continued to perform
as a solo act.
Todd received his first banjo
at age seven from Montgomery Ward. He taught himself by listening
to records and polished his skills with input from a few teachers
along the way. Wish I'd started when I was seven!
The CD begins with "Rawhide,"
played at breakneck speed, and goes on from there. I particularly
enjoyed his rendition of "Nashville Blues," which is
fairly straight-ahead but definitely not boring. Very nice! "The
Race Is On" explodes with incredible melodic runs and single
string work throughout. The CD has many classic banjo tunes on
it, including "Wildwood Flower," "Foggy Mountain
Breakdown," "Doug's Tune," (wonderful!) in addition
to "Home Sweet Home," "Grandfathers Clock,"
and "Old Joe Clark," among others
all of which
will make you wonder how Todd does it. Throughout his performance,
he displays his mastery of the banjo and makes it sound incredibly
do-able. Now where did I put my fingerpicks?
Todd is joined by a stellar cast
of musicians, including Steve Thorpe on Dobro and lead guitar
and Bo Frazier on fiddle and mandolin. One thing is for sure;
they all got a workout making this CD! Amazing! This wonderful
CD is $14.95 and can be ordered online.
exposure to Frank Solivan's music was at an outdoor concert in
suburban Virginia. It was his first gig with the U.S. Navy's
Country Current and someone told me that this guy was great.
And, boy, was he!
Frank is a singer, songwriter,
mandolinist, and fiddler
and one heck of a nice guy to boot.
Rumor has it that he's a fine banjo player, too. He has put together
a CD that displays a variety of his talents, in addition to showcasing
the talents of some other fine musicians. The CD is titled I
Am A Rambler.
Of the thirteen cuts, all but
three are originals. The CD opens with "Dirty Kitchen,"
an upbeat toe-tapping tune with the players swapping leads with
incredible facility. It ended too soon! Frank's got a great voice,
too, as we find out in "Day to Day." David Grier's
guitar break is super, as are all the other instrumental breaks
in this song. "Sunny Swing" opens with a superb mandolin
break, followed by the fiddle. Richard Bailey plays a fine banjo
break and the slap bass is awesome. The title cut "I am
a Rambler" is wonderful from beginning to end. The instrumentalists
do an incredible job of supporting the melody on this and all
the vocals. They continue the vocal line, making it their own
"This Old River" is
a tender love song; the lyrics likening the characteristics of
a river to the singer's love of his mate. The guitar, dobro,
fiddle, mandolin, and banjo are all wonderful. "A Mother's
Hand" is sentimental and reflects on the many roles our
mother's hands play in our early lives. I'll admit that I've
worn out a few of the tracks on this CD, and "Across the
Great Divide" (written by the late Kate Wolf) is one of
those tracks. The combination of a great song, nice vocal and
instrumentals that enhance the tune, make it so very listenable!
Frank makes his fiddle talk big time on the instrumental "Salad
Bowl." David Grier does some amazing things and, Rob Ickes'
break is very enjoyable! What a neat tune to end the CD with!
Frank is joined by Byron House
(bass), Richard Bailey (banjo), Shad Cobb (fiddle and clawhammer
banjo), Kathy Chiavola and Billy Davis (harmony vocals), JD Blair
(snare and brushes), in addition to David Grier (guitar), and
Rob Ickes (dobro).
This CD is a bargain at $15 (plus
$2.50 shipping and handling), and I understand not many copies
are left. To get yours, go to http://cdbaby.com/all/thefiddlemon.
and Emory Lester's CD Acoustic Campaign is great! Mark
calls his style of banjo playing clawgrass, which is clawhammer
banjo that is exciting, fresh, high-spirited, and teeters ever
so close to the edge. This CD exudes those qualities in Mark's
as well as Emory's playing from beginning to end.
All the cuts on this CD are superb.
"Forked Deer" is explosive and yet played with precision.
Mark shares the spotlight with Emory on this cut as well as many
others, and their playing makes this an impressive interpretation
of a traditional favorite. Another, "Heartbroken,"
an original composition by Mark, is wonderfully sweet and played
with heartfelt emotion. "Cherokee Shuffle" is fine
example of how well Mark and Emory execute traditional fiddle
tunes. Emory's facility on the guitar is evident as they seamlessly
float the melody back and forth between them, neither totally
letting go of it, yet allowing the other to take the lead. Emory
is an incredible mandolinist and he does a wonderful job on "Jerusalem
Ridge." Vince Gill's "Hey God" is superb - a blend
of perfect execution and quiet emotion. "Soldier's Joy,"
which Mark plays both claw and three-finger style, is explosive
from start to finish. What fun!
Mark (banjo) and Emory (guitar,
mandolin, acoustic bass and vocals) have done a wonderful job
on this CD. This is a great mix of traditional, bluegrass, and
original material, all in Mark's signature style, and it is guaranteed
to entertain banjo players of all persuasions.
The CD is $16.95 (including shipping)
and can be ordered online at http://www.clawgrass.com.
Day, by Cross Creek Bluegrass
Band, from the Shenandoah Valley area of Virginia, is superb
in every way. The wonderful vocal harmonies, cleanly executed
instrumentals, and great selection of songs, make this an incredibly
All fifteen cuts, including one
original, are very listenable. There are two Gordon Lightfoot
songs that sound terrific played bluegrass style -- "Early
Morning Rain" and "The Old Man from the Forest."
Other notable cuts are Flatt/Scruggs' "Your Love is Like
a Flower," Larry Sparks' "John Deere Tractor,"
Terry Kirkman/Dick Halligan's "Cowboys and Indians,"
and Doyle Lawson/Bill Emerson's "Welcome to New York."
The group has succeeded at putting a fresh spin on some classic
tunes and every one of them is a standout.
Lee Baber has been playing banjo
for 32 years. Her playing is clean, tasteful, and punchy. Playing
mostly straight ahead Scruggs style, she also tosses in some
tasteful melodic licks to keep things interesting. Cal Baber
shows his expertise on the dobro, playing some very nice breaks
on this CD. He is also featured as lead vocal on a number of
tunes. Dave Smoke sounds great, adding his strong rhythm and
innovative guitar leads to their sound. Danny Thomale's bass
is unobtrusive but always there. He can also be heard singing
lead and harmony vocal. Mike McDonald displays his accomplished
mandolin playing and sings lead and harmony vocals. All are excellent
The CD costs $15, which includes
shipping. You can order the CD by emailing
the group or mailing payment to Lee Baber, PO Box 661, Woodstock,
VA 22664. Cross Creek's website.
Our Crazy Love Affair is a wonderful eclectic collection of
tunes performed by a very talented DC area fiddler, Tad Marks.
His playing and songwriting capabilities seem to be at home with
bluegrass, Celtic, old time, Texas swing and Cajun styles of
Each track has a different message
and a different style, and Tad displays his tasteful artistry
with all. He starts us off with the title track "Our Crazy
Love Affair," which is a fun and upbeat Cajun/Bluegrass
tune about a relationship that just doesn't quite 'click.' Mark
Delaney offers us some very tasteful banjo playing in this one,
as well as on one other tune. "The March to Gettysburg"
is a very moving fiddle and percussion (the latter subtly beating
out a marching cadence) tune that Tad wrote after watching a
news clip about our troops based in Baghdad. "True Companion"
is a lovely wedding ballad with a simple and pure theme of love
and commitment. Ann Roddy's voice is perfect for this heartfelt
song. "Oh, Mexico" gives us an idea of Tad's expertise
with the Texas swing style
tasteful slides and double
stops. "Proud Nation"
I've just about worn out
this track! Close your eyes and allow Tad to touch your soul
with his 'simple in premise, but complex in effect' original
tune. With only fiddle and percussion, the latter provided by
the multi-talented Zan McLeod (percussion, guitar, electric bass,
high strung guitar, and bouzouki), this one takes you on a wonderful
musical meandering that I was sad to see end. Tad states in the
liner notes that "Ookpik Waltz" is one of his favorite
waltzes. It's one of mine, too, especially after hearing his
rendition of it. Tad puts a wonderful spin on it with his tasteful
slides and turns. The hammered dulcimer accompaniment by Walt
Michael sets this version apart from others I've heard. Mike
Munford displays his fine banjo technique in "Hoofers Hornpipe/Temperance
Reel," a toe-tapper with Celtic roots.
Other instrumentalists on the
CD not mentioned above are Stefan Custodi (upright bass), Esther
Haynes (vocal and guitar), and Dave Giegerich (dobro). This production
would be a great addition to anyone's collection, and I am very
happy it is part of mine. Thanks, Tad!
To order, click HERE
or contact Tad by e-mail.
Ed O'Reilly wandered
into Turtle Hill and left us one of his CDs, Sure As The Soil. It was a few
days before I had a chance to listen to it, and now I'm wondering
why I waited so long. This self produced CD grabs you, draws
and doesn't release you for a very long time. There's
a passion to his music that is reminiscent of the great Bob Dylan,
with a little bit of Steve Earle thrown in. It's not quite as
perfect as we hear so often in todays digital world, but that
makes it so much more appealing. It's music with a purpose. As
I closed my eyes and listened, I found that I was enjoying a
journey into his world, and heard an incredibly talented musician
as he told me the tales of life, both good and bad.
The CD is a mix of traditional
and original material. The traditional is not, however, your
usual fare. For instance, the words to "Belle Gunness"
date to 1958, and Ed says that setting those lyrics to a cowboy
ballad was one of the first forays into "creative tampering."
Tamper all you want, Ed! "In Buffalo" is one tune that
Ed plays clawhammer on. He demonstrates his facility with the
claw style of playing and uses the banjo to accentuate the powerful
lyrics. The finger picked banjo accompanying "General Patterson"
is absolutely wonderful. I can't imagine it played any other
This production is dominated by Ed's wonderful guitar playing,
clawhammer and finger picked banjo that is so incredibly tasteful
and appropriate to the tunes. The lyrics will keep you thinking
for days. Ed will take you to places you never thought you wanted
to visit. I, for one, can't wait to go there again! Not only
is the music wonderful, but so is the price of the CD. $10 including
shipping is a tremendous bargain, especially since this has over
60 minutes of music. I highly recommend it! Get your own copy
by sending your payment to Ed O'Reilly, 8700 Colesville Road,
#309, Silver Spring, MD 20910. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tonk Frame of Mind from
The Dick Smith ~ Mike O'Reilly Band is an outstanding CD! I'm
repeating myself (read my review of their other CD), but this
is some of the finest contemporary bluegrass music I've heard.
Mike O'Reilly wrote all 14 songs, and he succeeds, yet again,
at taking us with him
on a colorful journey through life.
Besides the great songwriting
by Mike, Dick Smith's playing is incredibly clean and tasteful.
If you are a banjo player, listen to his backup techniques and
great breaks. And if you're not a banjo player, listen to it
anyway. They've put together a very talented group for this CD.
Ray Legere, who plays both fiddle and mandolin, is just plain
wonderful. The vocal harmonies and instrumental picking on the
cuts are tight, clean and thoroughly enjoyable. No matter what
your interest is, you'll enjoy it.
While all of the cuts are great,
some standouts for me were "Dear Old Lad," which on
first listen sounds like a nice classic bluegrass tune. Listen
closely to the lyrics, though. You might catch a tear welling
up in the corner of your eye. "Old Standby" is low
key yet powerful. There's something about the lyrics that should
hit home for a lot of us. "Promise Me Son" picks you
up and places you firmly in a mining community, and leaves you
hoping that the son will follow his father's advice not to follow
in the family tradition of being a miner. In "Outlaw's Reward"
you are living the life of an aging outlaw cowboy, and "Lonnie
Ray" is a great up-tempo tune about a moon shiner who runs
into, and is pursued by, Sheriff Brown. Sorry, you'll have to
buy the CD to hear what happens.
The picking is fabulous, the
lyrics take you to places you only dreamed about, and the melodies
are timeless. To order, send $15.00 plus $1.50 shipping to Dick
Smith, 1501 Baltimore Road, Alexandria, VA 22308. Checks should
be made payable to Dick Smith.
Cruisin' the 8 is a masterpiece from beginning to end,
consisting of fresh material (6 cuts were written by Emory) played
by an exceptional musician. Amazingly, Emory plays mandolin,
mandola, guitar, violin, acoustic bass, octave violin, piano,
synthesizer, 12-string guitar, and percussion on this CD. Dale
Lester (drums), George Hodgkiss (trombone), Mike Munford (banjo)
and Mark Johnson (clawhammer banjo) each contribute to one track
Each of the thirteen tracks is
a gem. The title track by Emory creates a lively texture of mandolin,
guitar, fiddle and banjo weaving back and forth, one picking
up where the other leaves off. In this song, as well as throughout
the CD, Emory displays his amazing capabilities of both song
writing and of each of the instruments he plays. "Salt Creek
Revisited" is a wonderful song that opens with Emory's clear,
bouncy, and rich-sounding mandolin playing. He changes the pace
with the lovely "Impressions." The instruments again
trade off the lead with each other eloquently, sometimes mid-stream.
This song acts as a transition into a jazzier Miles Davis tune,
but don't think the rest of the CD is going to be jazz. "Paul
Barfoot's Breakdown" comes next and it's a fun one! Wait
until you hear Emory play the guitar, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle
breaks on "Steel Driver!" The CD ends with a short
"Till The Next Time" and it leaves you hoping he'll
cut another one soon.
Emory travels from bluegrass
to jazz to old time masterfully throughout the CD, just as he
transitions from one instrument to the next in each of the tunes.
This is one CD that you will enjoy over and over and over again.
It's so nice to hear material that isn't tired.
To order, visit Emory's website.
and Rum is Lea Coryell's
first solo release and is a wonderful way to enter the recording
world! Lea plays and sings acoustic folk music and his varied
musical influences reflect the style he performs today. He comments
that "A lot of the music comes from the people who work
with their hands for a living -- farmers and sailors. I identify
This is one of the most delightful
clawhammer banjo CDs I've heard. Lea's pleasing voice and solid
clawhammer, guitar, and harmonica playing very quickly draw you
into his world of mostly traditional tunes. Other musicians on
the CD include Joan Kennedy (vocal, guitar), Don Stallone (vocal,
concertina, melodeon, bones, forks), Ralph Lee Smith (dulcimer,
harmonica), Dennis Doyle (vocal, guitar), Martha Doyle (vocal),
Bob Dagostaro (fiddle), and John Gorozdos (vocal, tin whistle).
The 17 cuts include "The Lazy Farmer," "Bold Riley,"
"Green Light on the Southern," "Mississippi Sawyer,"
and "Snowdrop," along with the wonderful Mennonite
hymn "Going Down The Valley." I hadn't heard most of
the songs before and I think that's what's so wonderful about
There are very few CDs that I
enjoy listening to over and over, and this is one of those few.
Order yours now; you won't be disappointed. Payment of $15 plus
$1.50 shipping should be sent to Lea Coryell, 418 Reneau Way,
Herndon, VA 20170-4522. You can also order it online at CDBaby.com. Lea also has a website, or you can e-mail
has collected four Washington Area Music Awards for Best Male
Vocalist in Bluegrass and Traditional Folk, and his songwriting
has won numerous awards. His CD, Lights of Home, features
12 songs, 11 of which were written by Randy. He comments in the
liner notes "All I can say is I write the songs that come
to me. It is a true gift when the muse comes to visit and leaves
a memento of the occasion." What a wonderful memento this
CD is! The selections are a blend of folk, bluegrass, and country
and very well written. Randy's rich baritone voice is very personable
and warm and a pleasure to listen to. Some standouts on this
CD are "That Was Then This Is Now," "Time On My
Hands," the traditional murder ballad "Cole Younger,"
"Herman and Harriet," and the title track, "Lights
Randy has assembled a stellar group of musicians for the CD to
augment his very fine guitar playing. They include Mike Auldridge
(dobro and pedal steel), Ira Gitlin (bass), Ron Stewart (fiddle),
Jon Carroll (piano), Akira Otsuka (mandolin), Dede Wyland (harmony
vocal), and Grace Griffith (harmony vocal). By the way, Randy
also plays bluegrass banjo on one track.
I thoroughly enjoyed every cut on this CD and I think you will
too. To order, send $15 plus $2 shipping to Randy at 201 W Greenway
Blvd, Falls Church, VA 22046, or click here to visit their website.
Zan McLeod is a multi-talented
DC area musician who plays guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, tenor
banjo, bass guitar, Kurzweil keyboard and percussion on this
CD. Highland Soul is a well-planned, well-played, and
well-produced musical treat that takes you on an "I wish
it wouldn't end" Celtic journey of twelve jigs, waltzes,
reels, and laments. Zan is joined by Brendan Mulvihill - fiddle,
Donna Long - piano, Dave Abe - fiddle, Myron Bretholz - bodhran,
Linda Fotis - digital piano, and Tony Ellis - 5-string banjo,
fiddle. Despite the fact that this is Zan's CD, he shows his
mastery by allowing others to share the limelight. Listen to
Tony Ellis playing 5-string banjo on "Hand in Hand"
accompanied by Zan, and then Zan's solo performances of "Miriam's
Waltz" and "O'Carolan's Draught" and you'll have
to agree that he is comfortable in or out of the spotlight. This
is really a wonderful CD!
Order one now! Send $15 plus
$2.00 shipping to Joy of Music Productions, 10901 Tuckerman Hill
Lane, Potomac, MD 20854. Checks should be made payable to Zan
Tad Marks' The Highlander's
Farewell features eleven wonderful Celtic and American fiddle
favorites, ranging from a haunting version of "Ashokan Farewell"
with hammered dulcimer accompaniment to a foot stomping "Ballad
of St. Anne's Reel". This is a CD that has something for
every acoustic aficionado! Tad, an exquisite fiddler of both
genres and also a mandolin player, has assembled a very talented
group for this CD, including Zan McLeod (guitars, bass, bouzouki,
percussion), Charlie Zahm (vocal), Mike Munford (banjo), Bob
Perilla (guitar), Walt Michael (hammered dulcimer) and Dick Smith
(mandolin). Other tracks include "Loch Lomond/The Ashgrove,"
"Forked Deer," "Londonderry Aire," "The
Water is Wide" (beautifully sung by Zahm), a medley of "The
Foxhunters Jig/Rocky Road to Dublin/Red Haired Boy," and
a mournful "Highlander's Farewell" (composed by Marks).
Treat yourself and send $17.00
including shipping to Tad Marks, 14102-A Monticello Drive, Cooksville,
MD 21723. Checks should be made payable to Tad Marks.
Clean, fresh song writing
and impeccable acoustic instrumental work are the foundation
for this wonderful CD from The Dick Smith & Mike O'Reilly
Band (CD titled the same). This is some of the finest contemporary
bluegrass music I've heard.
Mike O'Reilly has written 13
of the 14 songs, leaving hardly an emotion or story line untouched
as the lyrics wind their way through the many "twists and
turns that life deals to us all." Dick Smith's superb banjo
and mandolin playing are always present and always tasteful while
gliding in and out of the limelight. Dick and Mike's voices are
a joy to listen to as they sing the sorrows of the woman who
always wished for what she didn't have in "The Fifth Line,"
the ghostly tale of a hanging in "Ebenezer Jones" and
others. Bob Goff singing about the simple joy of love in "Baby
Girl" is great. The other musicians, Ray Legere - fiddle
and guitar, Emory Lester - mandolin, Slavek Hanzlik - guitar,
and Bob Goff - bass, reflect Dick and Mike's talent and tastefulness,
and complete the package very nicely.
Do yourself a favor and order
one now! You'll be glad you did! Send $15.00 plus $1.50 shipping
to Dick Smith, 1501 Baltimore Road, Alexandria, VA 22308. Checks
should be made payable to Dick Smith.
On Windfall, Ray Hesson's recently released
album, he is joined by such notables as David Grier on guitar,
Fred Travers on dobro, Warren Blair on fiddle, and Ira Gitlan
(a great banjo player in his own right) on bass.
Ray Hesson is an extremely versatile
banjo player who intermingles Scruggs style with a lot of very
tasteful melodic picking. Don't expect to hear the same old standard
banjo warhorses on this album. Nine of the sixteen cuts were
written by Ray and, appropriately enough since he lives in the
Washington, DC area, include titles such as "Baltimore Breakdown,"
Calvert County Meltdown," and "Annapolis Rag."
Among the other seven cuts are "Darktown Strutters Ball,"
"Sweet Georgia Brown," and "Golden Eagle Hornpipe."
Windfall is a wonderful and very listenable banjo album.
I strongly encourage you to order a copy. I think you'll like
it, and I feel it is important for all of us to support projects
such as this. I can tell you that if this was a record I'd have
worn it out by now. It's that good!
To order, send $15.00 for CD
or $10 for cassette (these prices including shipping) to Ray
Hesson, 16801 Swanson Road Spur, Upper Marlboro, MD 20774. Do
it today; you won't be sorry.
While you're writing your
check, we urge you to include an additional $15.00 for Ray's
earlier CD, Five Picker. This wonderful production has
16 selections, including such favorites as "Rosemary's Waltz,"
"Dixie Hoedown," "Maple Leaf Rag," "Clarinet
Polka," "Ragtime Annie," and "St. Anne's
Reel." You won't regret it!
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