When this album first hit, the groans of anguish from banjo players could be heard all over the world. Those of us active at the time had been hearing about this young banjo phenom up in Boston for as much as two years before this record came out, and it seemed impossible that he could really be as good as the few who had seen him live had reported.
I’ll never forget the “reality check” I got from listening to Crossing The Tracks that first time. Any pretense I had as a young banjo player of “rewriting the book on banjo” were torn to bits by Bela’s obvious mastery of the instrument, not to mention his vision as a soloist and his obvious skill as a composer. Wow.
Of course, those “groans” from banjo players were only metaphorical, and we all recognized that a major voice had emerged on the instrument. His promise seemed limitless, and it has been a pure joy to follow his career since. I might liken it to the way the mandolin world reacted when Chris Thile hit in earnest – a mix of awe and disbelief, with just a touch of embarrassment.
Some of the material from this release had appeared on Fleck collections already, but I urge anyone interested in Bela’s music, or the modern history of the banjo, to get this reissue.
Also due to be reissued on CD this fall on Rounder:
Butch Robbins – Forty Years Late: (11/15/05) A major banjo recording from 30 years ago that set Butch on quite a pedestal. Material is also a mix of bluegrass and ’70s vintage newgrass.
James Bryan – The First Of May: (11/15/05) Bryan was the fiddler with Norman & Nancy Blake when this record was first released in the mid ’80s. Not surprisingly, the material is old time fiddle music, brilliantly played.
Andy Statman – Flatbush Waltz: (11/15/05) Not a bluegrass release in any sense, but an important contribution from a mandolinist with few peers. This 1980 record cemented Statman as a leading mandolin player, and may have marked his first experimentation on disk with the klezmer music that has become a primary focus in his professional life.
The four CDs highlighted above are described as Online Exclusives, which seems to mean that they will only be available from the Rounder web site.