Bill Evans, noted west coast banjoist and instructor, has released his latest recording, In Good Company, on his own Native & Fine label.
The concept of this project is collaboration, with Bill inserted into a pair of established new grass bands (two banjos!), and matched up with two different rhythm sections, one each from the California and Nashville bluegrass/acoustic scenes. The sessions in Berkley, CA included such artists as Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, Todd Phillips, David Grier, and Tashina and Tristan Clarridge. Grier, a Nashvillian, also anchors the Music City sessions on guitar, along with Rob Ickes, Matt Flinner, Stuart Duncan and Missy Raines. Ned Luberecki also joins Evans for another double banjo track.
We’ll have more to say about this fine album in an upcoming review, but wanted to post today to share one of the tracks which Bill has agreed to offer in its entirety for our readers. Through the end of May, you can stream Walk To The Water, which was recorded with The Infamous Stringdusters while Dominic Leslie was with them on mandolin. It’s a song from John Martyn which features Travis Book on lead vocals, and Chris Pandolfi on second banjo plus the rest of the ‘Dusters.
Evans explained a bit about the song and how he chose and arranged it for this track.
“I wanted to find a song that fit the Stringdusters’ sound as well as something that was evocative of a mood but didn’t tell a linear kind of story. I had also decided that I wanted the cut to end with some instrumental interplay between Chris and I, so I went looking for a song with a chord progression that would allow that to happen. If you’ve been to a ‘Dusters show recently, you know the excitement that these guys are creating on stage. I was hoping to find a song that sounds like something that would fit naturally in a Stringdusters set – I was imagining in my head thousands of dancing fans!
I’m a big Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova fan and they participated in a recent tribute project to the late English singer-songwriter John Martyn and Walk to the Water was on that recording. The moment I heard it, I imagined the Stringdusters performing this song. I sent an mp3 to Chris and he immediately got it too, so the band was enthusiastic to work it up. The vibe in the studio was very supportive and positive – those guys bring it to everything they do. Chris and I worked out our harmony parts quickly but the interplay was improvised. I think that we kept the third or fourth take and we both knew we had what we wanted the moment we recorded it. It was fantastic to look through the isolation booth window over at Chris and see this huge grin on his face!”
Walk To The Water: [http://traffic.libsyn.com/thegrasscast/walk_to_the_water.mp3]
Having discussed this project with Evans a number of times before, during and after its recording, it has been clear from the start that he intends to pursue this project with every bit of enthusiasm and professionalism you would expect with a headliner release from a major pop or country artist. We talked about our mutual sense of loss now that CD packaging has eclipsed the sort of larger-scale art that was a staple in the LP world of our youth, and Bill has included an 11′ x 17′ poster with more than two dozen photos from the recording sessions. We pondered the importance of video in promoting new releases in the Internet age, and Bill has just completed shooting a music video for the opening track, The Distance Between Two Points.
Conventional wisdom might suggest that a music video for an adventurous modern bluegrass instrumental was not the best move, but I quickly recalled that Nickel Creek made quite a mark with their video for The Smoothie Song. I certainly won’t burden Evans with those sort of expectations, but will say that the concept he has is intriguing, and the melding of music and visual imagery can make a powerful combination, as we all know well.
Working with videographer Sarah Fisher at Blue Lotus Films, Bill has put together a story line involving the passing along musical of traditions from one generation to the next. The set replicates the albums curious cover image, and features Bill and his daughter Corey, a talented percussionist who also performs on the record’s final track.
“I attempt to get a young Corey interested in the banjo but she does many other things that kids like to do. She walks through a banjo forest and then becomes interested in the instrument and I begin to teach her. She is transformed into my actual daughter, and the two of us play together to end the video.”
Bill shared a few still images from the video shoot to tempt your imagination until the finished product is released in early June.