If you’ve caught a Junior Sisk show this past few years, or heard his last two records, you know what a blistering banjo picker he has in Jason Davis. This month, at the age of 23, Davis is seeing his second solo project released on Mountain Fever.
The 13 tracks on Second Time Around show Jason to be not only adept with the five string, but also at putting together a first rate recording. Less than half the cuts are banjo instrumentals, with the rest being a mix of new and classic songs performed with a crack band, and featuring a bevy of talented bluegrass vocalists.
For the most part, the rhythm section consists of Kevin McKinnon on mandolin, Keith McKinnon on guitar, and Kameron Keller on bass (the Killer K’s!), with Davis on banjo. Both Ron Stewart and Justen Haynes provide fiddle on selected tracks, as does Josh Swift on reso-guitar and Aaron Ramsey on mandolin.
But Jason conceived of this project as one where the singers would shine, placing him in the comfortable supportive role he has played with Junior, and before that with Blue Ridge, Kenny & Amanda Smith, and Michelle Nixon & Drive. He chose the songs and the singers, all save a clever and original arrangement of O Death, which was devised by the McKinnon brothers.
Let’s look first at the four banjo tunes, which show Jason at home on both modern and more traditional music. He offers a rip-snortin’ take on Bully Of The Town, popularized in the 1920s by Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett, and cemented later as a banjo piece by Don Reno. For Davis, it’s a reprise of a version he cut for Huber Banjos’ Cuppa ‘Jo CD, with a few new twists.
Ted’s Tune is a new composition from Aaron Ramsey, a real driving tune with a more modern chord structure and melody. Liberty is expertly presented as a classic banjo/fiddle duet with Ron Stewart, and the album ends with a brief performance of Shamrock, played just beyond Ludicrous Speed. Jason nails them each and every one, showing why he is among the finest young five-stringers to watch these days.
The vocal numbers include chestnuts like The Carter Family’s Just Another Broken Heart, given the perfect mournful sound by Junior Sisk, to new songs like One More Rocky Road, written and sung here by Daniel Salyer. The latter is a real tear-jerker, with a modern country flair, by this terrific singer/songwriter.
Jason’s bandmate in Rambler’s Choice, Jason Tomlin, contributes lead vocal on I’ll Be Waiting For You, and his brother Justin, who works with Nothin Fancy, sings Hard Rock Bottom Of Your Heart, a Hugh Prestwood song that was a hit for Randy Travis in 1990.
The record opens with Darrell Webb doing Bob Amos’ Where The Wild River Rolls, previously cut by Hot Rize and later by Amos himself. Webb shines on this bluesy lament, as does Dustin Pyrtle on Oh Death, given a slick, modern bluegrass treatment complete with low-tuned banjo, and some superb fiddle from Stewart and reso work from Swift.
Especially strong is the album’s first single, Bootleg John, sung by Shawn Lane with Steve Gulley adding harmony. Some mighty fine Stanley-style squealin’ on this one.
There’s not a weak track here, a credit to such a young musician as Jason Davis. In fact, aside from a few star turns, all the music is performed by the cream of the crop of the under-30 grassers in the VA/KY/NC/TN nexus. Very strong, and impressive.
Second Time Around isn’t officially released until July 9, but Jason has copies for sale now from his web site. Downloads are available as well from popular digital resellers.