Russ Carson is the full-time banjo player with Audie Blaylock and Redline, who has released his debut solo project, Last Chance, on Patuxent Records. It features Russ along with a red-hot rhythm section – and several terrific vocalists – on 14 strong tracks.
Like so many contemporary solo projects, the album showcases Carson’s impressive banjo skills in both instrumental and song settings, with a couple of powerful duets thrown in for good measure. Jake Stargel is on guitar, Marshall Wilborn on bass, and Dominick Leslie on mandolin throughout, with Michael Cleveland and Patrick MacAvinue trading off, and doubling up, on fiddle.
Vocals are split between Brandon Rickman (lead) and Jeff Parker (tenor), reprising their Lonesome River Band teaming, and the Gold sisters of Gold Heart. Marshall Wilborn also sings one in his inimitable style.
Carson is a fine banjo player, despite his relative youth. His playing avoids the sort of flashy, self-indulgent salvos not uncommon among less experienced musicians. But then, Russ has been playing professionally for several years. He toured and recorded with Gold Heart, and has been with Audie since last summer.
And he sounds every bit the pro on Last Chance. His tone is dark and meaty, and his timing conveys the sort of comfort and ‘looseness’ so admired in the playing of J.D. Crowe.
The material is an interesting mix. There are a number of classic bluegrass songs (One Tear, I Feel The Blues Moving In, Redwood Hill), some familiar instrumentals (Shenandoah Breakdown, Methodist Preacher, Goodbye Liza Jane), and takes on a number of more obscure old time fiddle tunes (Squirrel Hunters, Devil In The Woodpile). There are also a number of fine original compositions, two from Gold Heart (Sake Of Love, Blue), and a new banjo tune of Russ’ (Sullivan County).
You can hear samples from all 14 tracks at CD Baby, and get a taste of Carson’s banjo tune (Sullivan County) in the promo video below.