Sometimes when I’m overextended, I listen to new music in the background while answering emails, preparing song licenses or making dinner. Then I circle back later and give the CD my undivided attention for a few listens before I write a review.
That was my plan with Duckpin, the new self-released CD from Charm City Junction. But the band with roots in the Baltimore area went and ruined it. There was too much toe tapping, seat dancing, and head bobbing to do anything else. So if I’m behind on tasks I’m supposed to be doing for you or have failed to put dinner on the table, blame these guys.
The band, offering a refreshing blend of bluegrass, old time, and Irish music, has been recording together since 2015. Duckpin is clearly its best work to date, and possibly its most difficult logistically, given that band members are now more spread out musically and geographically than they were when they were relative neighbors getting together to pick. For starters, fiddler Patrick McAvinue has a new gig in Nashville, touring with Dailey & Vincent.
But distance and touring schedules haven’t gotten in the way of the magic. As they wrote in the liner notes, “We cherish every moment spent together performing on stage, recording in the studio, driving down the highway, or sitting together sharing tunes, wherever that may be.” It shows.
Whether it’s the banjo and fiddle fueled old timey title cut, written by the band’s banjo man, Brad Kolodner, the Irish-inflected medley of Sean McComiskey’s Jig for Annie and the traditional Fort Smith Breakdown, or an imaginative remake of John Prine’s Please Don’t Bury Me (with a cool, understated vocal by Kolodner), there are terrific nuggets here for anybody with a pulse.
Indeed, McComiskey’s button accordion work on Jig makes we want to sneak off to the music room and experiment with a similar instrument that was recently gifted into the family. Hasn’t happened yet, but if it does I’ll have yet another reason to blame CCJ for interfering with my work.
But the real draw for me on this 11-song journey are two songs that prominently feature McAvinue.
The first is Long Distance Call, a bluegrassy number written by Chris Jacobs and knitted together by McAvinue’s buttery smooth lead vocal. I’ve enjoyed his harmonies over the years, including a time or two behind me at music camps, but this is the first time I was aware of him out front. More, please.
The second is The Perfect Fit, an instrumental he wrote that blends old time and Irish approaches. McAvinue’s fiddle and McComiskey’s accordion trade melody lines throughout, The fiddle, especially, drips with emotion.
Also enjoyable is Mark Kilanski’s Boozy Suzy, with a fun vocal by bassist Alex Lacquement.
My only frustration on this otherwise stellar work is that at several points Lacquement’s bass breaks are too far back in the mix to be clearly heard and fully enjoyed. But throw out the low score from the bass-playing judge and Duckpin is a winner.
You can find it at www.charmcityjunction.com.