Isaac Cantor did not grow up playing bluegrass music like many prominent musicians within the genre, but once he picked up the banjo at age 17, he was hooked. Soon he became consumed with learning everything there was to know about his chosen instrument, and even took off to travel the world after high school in order to learn more about his new favorite style of music. He eventually settled near the Bay Area of California, and it is from there that he has released his first album, Road to Noyo, on Happy Hill Records.
Road to Noyo is filled with almost all original material, an astonishing feat for a relatively new artist. Its melodic instrumentals feature multiple other talented musicians from the West Coast as well, including David Thom, Tyler Balthrop, Chad Manning, and Leif Karlstrom. They combine to create a folk-tinged record on the edges of bluegrass which is both interesting and pleasing to the ears.
While Cantor plays straightforward bluegrass style music, his playing also shows a great amount of influence from his travels throughout the United States and abroad. The nine song, thity-seven minute album not only features standard tunes like Cherokee Shuffle and a Clinch Mountain Backstep/Train 45 medley, but also includes classical and jazz influences. These influences are showcased through tunes like Baker Street Breakdown, which sounds like it could easily translated into an orchestral form. Joy features a crooked melody, which seems more and more Celtic flavored as the song continues, especially when the band begins a jig-like breakdown.
Weaving together what seems to be straightforward Scruggs-style picking with melodic phrases, Road to Noyo is no cookie cutter album. From the traditionally based pieces to its title track, the musicianship on this album is quite distinctive and clearly displays Cantor’s creative mindset and outside the box style. Even Pete Wernick, Dr. Banjo himself, is a fan of Cantor, having said that Road to Noyo “shows a fertile imagination at work.”
To those of us back east, San Francisco may seem like a town which would lack a traditional music scene. But one can certainly be sure that as long as Cantor is around, there will be bluegrass music in the Bay Area. Not only is he a composer, he is available for session work and lessons ranging from Scruggs-style to chromatic, with even some jazz stylings thrown in.
For more information on Cantor or his new album, visit him online at www.isaaccantor.com.