New music from Alan Munde is always good news for followers of adventurous five string banjo playing, and his latest, Bright Munde, a set of banjo/mandolin duets with Billy Bright, is another cause for rejoicing.
It’s not likely that many readers spent hundreds of hours in their salad days transcribing and learning every tune that Alan recorded, but as a theme for wasted youth, it has much to recommend it. This was the path I followed, and I have cherished his music for more than forty years since.
By the mid-1970s Munde was a major force in modern banjo music. A number of recordings with Country Gazette were available, along with instrumental masterpieces Poor Richard’s Almanac (with Sam Bush) and his own brilliant Banjo Sandwich record. Alan had also completed a brief apprenticeship with Jimmy Martin, at the time a crucial step for a future banjo hero.
The Country Gazette was his musical home until the early ’90s, by which time he had settled in as a full-time instructor at South Plains College in Levelland, TX teaching bluegrass and professional music to young people who travelled from all over the world to study with him. He has since retired from teaching, but not from music, even following emergency cardiac surgery late in 2011.
His partner on Bright Munde is Billy Bright, a Texas mandolinist os some note, well-remembered for his own solo work and a stint with Tony Rice and Peter Rowan. Billy and Alan are truly neighbors, living within a few miles of each other near Austin, TX, which has led to many local gigs, jam sessions, and ultimately, this record.
Billy proves an able duet partner throughout, and contributes four of his own tunes to the album, but it’s Alan’s music that sets the tone. Together they sample the many musical forms that make up acoustic string music. Bluegrass and Scruggs-style picking are represented with Geezer Ride and Everybody Say Wow, and Munde presents a fun swing tune, Like Sonny, inspired by what he calls “a super cool Sonny Osborne lick.”
You’ll find a touch of JazzGrass, a hybrid style pioneered by Munde and Texas guitarist Slim Richey, in Alan’s compositions G and Hot Dog Dreams, plus a lovely jazz waltz, Sad Eyes. Billy’s Yellow Rocking Chair pays tribute to Texas fiddle music, as his Red Fox In The Bush brings Appalachian fiddle traditions to mind. There’s even a touch of barnyard onomatopoeia in Who Killed The Shanghai Rooster, which Alan says he learned from hearing Don Stover play it at a festival jam years ago.
Bright Munde is a joy from start to finish, not withstanding the disturbingly eerie cover image that finds the two artists in mid-morph.
The album can be purchased on CD from Alan’s web site. Banjo tabs for the solos are available there as well.