Banjo Talkin' - Album Review by Hilary Dirlam
Banjo Talkin’ – Album Review by Hilary Dirlam ©2007
This article first appeared in The Old-Time Herald
Used By Permission
Cathy Fink with Marcy Marxer, Jane Rothfield, Adam Hurt, Tony Trischka, Bruce Molsky and Chris Coole.
Cathy Fink, this album’s producer, features the talents of a spectrum of traditional musicians on Banjo Talkin,’ as well as her own considerable strengths as composer, arranger, instrumentalist and vocalist.
The album’s energetic and imaginative collection of tunes and songs showcases an array of banjoid instruments. Banjomaniacs everywhere will be happy to note that besides openback banjos galore and resonator banjo, banjo uke and cello banjo also make appearances. Marcy Marxer, Cathy’s longtime musical collaborator, ably demonstrates her considerable expertise on the odder banjos. The cello banjo proves to be a surprisingly versatile instrument, fulfilling the roles of lead, chordal backup, contrapuntal companion, and bass.
The opening track, “Ishikawa”, written by Cathy to honor a Japanese Buddhist priest friend, is a banjo/fiddle duet with fiddler Jane Rothfield. Jane sticks to the melody; Cathy matches her note for note, mostly, while throwing in some chromatic upward runs that really push the tune along.
The title track, “Banjo Talkin,” also composed by Cathy, is a mellower tune. Simply stated the first time around (with some lyrics for the B part), the second and third times through the tune is ably and delicately elaborated upon, with a pleasantly meditative effect. The first part sounded familiar to me, and my mind eventually came up with the first part of “Old Melinda” as a near match.
Another composition, “First String Fling,” was the result of a mutual assignment with Tony Trischka to come up with a one-string banjo composition in half an hour. Cathy’s half turns out to be a vaguely Asian-sounding tune, which she somehow manages to play in an assured minor scale, while tuned (according to the liner notes) in a major tuning. How does she do it? I wish she had included Trischka’s one-string tune, too.
“What the Lord Done Give You” and “Fun Is Money,” both original songs, are as different as can be. In the first song, Cathy’s gospel-type lyrics are accompanied by skillfully frenetic work on a Wunderlich minstrel banjo with a 14” pot. “Fun Is Money” features self-described John Hartford-type lyrics, presumably flowing directly from the unconscious, but clever nonetheless, and backed up by one of Cathy’s Tubaphones.
Bruce Molsky’s fiddle (as well as Marcy’s guitar) is heard with Cathy on a couple of old-time tunes; “Sunny Home in Dixie” and “North Carolina Breakdown,” composed by Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith. The musicians sound like they’re having fun. I have always had a weakness for “Sunny Home In Dixie” and am glad Cathy included this lesser-known tune. Tony Trischka and Marcy join Cathy on “Home on the Range,” on banjo and cello banjo respectively. I particularly enjoyed the introduction, slowly rendered with all the requisite minors, sevenths, contrabass lines, and sentimental flourishes. Cathy sings a couple of the many verses. Trischka also plays backup with Cathy on her rendition of Lily Mae Ledford’s classic “Banjo Pickin’ Girl,” resulting in a composite clawhammer/bluegrass sound that works well with the vocal. Cathy is joined by Chris Coole on “Old Mother Flanagan,” and by Adam Hurt on “Buffalo Gals,” both playing banjo.
Marcy Marxer deserves mention for her multitracking on Cathy’s tune “Bob and Carolee” (cello banjo, banjo uke and uke). The tune itself has a Sousa-like quality enhanced by the arrangement of the various banjo family members, and the result ranges from the slyly humorous to outright musical slapstick. The use of the cello banjo on the traditional “Coleman’s March” gives a dignified and archaic feeling to this tune.
While not strictly traditional or old-time, Banjo Talkin’ is an interesting and sometimes inspired venture into the banjo netherworld, with performances by talented musicians, enhanced by the vision and technical expertise of Cathy and Marcy. Be forewarned: you may want to buy a cello banjo after you’ve heard it.
***Hilary Dirlam is an active member of the old-time music community. She lives in western North Carolina and is one of the founders of The Old-Time Herald, a magazine dedicated to American old-time music - http://www.oldtimeherald.org/
Here's the link for listening to, and ordering, Banjo Talkin' and other CD's by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer.
Our Favorite Cathy Fink Videos
(Cathy's musical partner) and the history of the Cello Banjo, which Marcy helped re-introduce
|The Buffalo Girls and Puncheon Floor (with Marcy Marxer)|
|Kitchen Girl - with Gold Tone CEB-4 cello banjo|
Visit Cathy and Marcy's website http://www.cathymarcy.com/
and their You Tube Channel http://www.youtube.com/CommunityMusic
photo credit Irene Young, iyfoto.com