I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a record I enjoyed this well, where I’ve had so much trouble quantifying the sound. It’s all joyfully conceived and brilliantly played, but running counter to so many stylistic norms… and yet it works perfectly on all levels.
Charm City Junction is composed of a bluegrass fiddler, an old time banjo picker, a Celtic accordionist, and a jazz bassist. Together they create an energetic amalgam that demonstrates their pure love of all these venerable musical idioms, but with a twist likely to satisfy anyone who appreciates traditional string music, expertly played.
The band name is taken from their beloved Baltimore, and the material on their self-titled recorded debut for Pawtuxent Records comes from songs and tunes that the various members have suggested. Most are instrumentals, that mix the Irish love for ornamentation and unison melody with the bluegrass passion for improvisation, and the old time devotion to groove.
Patrick McAvinue is on fiddle, Brad Kolodner on banjo, Sean McComskey on accordion, and Alex Lacquement on bass. They play together as though there was no difference in their musical backgrounds, and the delight they take in each other’s musical presence is obvious.
Traditional tunes make up most of the 14 tracks, though the album starts with a jaunty take on Bill Monroe’s Frog On A Lilly Pad. With old time banjo and accordion the tune has a very different character and is eminently danceable, just like most of this project.
Other new numbers include Margaret’s Waltz from Pat Shaw, Anders Osborne’s I’ve Got A Woman, The Torn Jacket from Connie O’Connell, and Ian Stephenson’s Return From Helsinki.
But my favorites are surely the old tunes these talented pickers have dug up. Several should be familiar to grassers, like the old time classic Last Chance, Benny Martin’s Two O’Clock In The Morning, and New River Train. If you’ve ever attended an old time jam or a major contest festival you may recognize Train On The Island or Greasy Coat, though the bluesy bass kickoff on that last may surprise traditionalists.
The Irish tunes, like Joe Bane’s Barndance, The Bogs of Shanaheaver, and Come West Along The Road will probably be new to most of our readers, but the pickers who hear them are likely to want to learn them soon afterwards.
There are a number of vocal pieces as well, though it should be said that the primary energy and passion here comes from the playing, and it is remarkable.
All of the arrangements are fairly straightforward, relying on the beauty of these melodies and the power of banjo, fiddle, and accordion playing in unison with only the bass driving them from behind, to command and keep your attention.
Charm City Junction is a marvelous recording from an exciting new band. Don’t let this one slip by you.