Rounder Records has brought back a couple of classic recordings from 1978, capturing a moment when what we might call progressive bluegrass music was still in the process of defining itself. Both albums are brimming with innovative ideas, and should be of interest to all bluegrass fans, perhaps most particularly banjo players.
In 2009, Béla Fleck’s name is familiar to music lovers all over the world, both in and out of bluegrass. In 1978, however, he was a teenaged phenom, just coming to the attention of… well, anybody not following the minutia of banjomania.
For most folks, even those who had heard rumblings of this mega-talented youngster from “up north”, Tasty Licks’ self-titled debut on Rounder was their first taste of Béla’s burgeoning banjo revolution.
When this album first hit on LP, the “names’ on the album were mandolinist Jack Tottle and resonator guitarist, Stacy Phillips, both of whom had prior Rounder projects and popular instructional books on the market. Though Tottle and Phillips have gone on to make lasting contributions to our music, this reissue’s import is now focused on its glimpse of the young Béla Fleck.
Rounding out the group were Robin Kincaid on guitar and Paul Kahn on bass. This album was billed as “Northern bluegrass” when it was released in ’78, as the band was based in Boston, MA, at a time when this was worthy of note on its own. Bobby Hicks also provides fiddle on two tracks.
Butch Robins has a hard-earned reputation as a raconteur, envelope-pusher and controversialist. He is also, of course, a banjo innovator whose impact might have rivaled that of Fleck, had his music been more widely heard. Butch spent many formative years playing with Bill Monroe, an apprenticeship that informs his approach to music, none less than Monroe’s constant admonition to “make your own sound.”
Fragments Of My Imagicnation offers a fascinating look at Butch as he is transitioning from a more traditional Scruggs-style player to the sort of inventive, groundbreaking picker that fully emerged on his later releases Forty Years Late and Grounded, Centered, Focused.
On Fragments he was joined by then New Grass Revival members Curtis Burch, John Cowan and Sam Bush, plus a second banjo cameo from Béla himself. Butch had played bass briefly when New Grass was starting up. Can you imagine where they would have gone had he been the banjo picker from the start?
Both of these reissues are being offered as digital downloads in iTunes, with audio CDs available exclusively from Amazon.com.