Have you ever had the desire to simply step back in time? To tread the paths that our forefathers did, to experience the life that our ancestors endured? Unfortunately, there is no time capsule that can take us back in time, but fortunately, for fellow banjo lovers, Tony Trischka has invited us all to travel with him on his new extended release, Shall We Hope.
Shall We Hope has taken over 12 years to compose, and Trischka, the banjo virtuoso, has accomplished quite a feat as he invites his audience into the lives of characters from America’s past, the Civil War era in particular. Tony takes his audience to where Americans from yesteryear have grappled, struggled, and survived the tragedies of war, death, and the meaning of freedom. Although written as fiction, this album is based on the actual history of our nation.
The “father of modern bluegrass,” as Tony has been called, gave birth to and composed the entire LP; however, the narrative is told through a gathering of artists that includes Michael Daves, Catherine Russell, Guy Davis, John Lithgow, Maura O’Connell, Jennifer Kimball, Phoebe Hunt, and Brian O’Donovan & the Violent Femmes.
Tony says that he has always had an interest in Civil War history. Sometimes all it takes is one picture to spark what turns out to be a raging fire. “I watched a video of the 1938 Gettysburg reunion, where the soldiers were shaking hands across that stone fence in 1938, brothers again,” says Trischka. “Though it might have been more a photo opp than an indication of changes of heart, it was a poignant moment and on a deeper level, a reason for hope.”
The story in Shall We Hope begins at Gettysburg in 1938, on the 75th anniversary of the bloodiest battle ever to take place on American soil. Timeless tales of energy and hope are interlaced with appropriate music annotations to put you right in the middle of the scenes.
On the Trischka-penned This Favored Land, vocalist and fiddler Phoebe Hunt sings about the stillness and solace on Gettysburg’s Cemetery Ridge in 1938. Michael Daves portrays Cyrus, and tells his story of murder and survival on the mighty river in On the Mississippi (Gambler’s Song). Irish singer and actress Maura O’Connell is an impeccable choice to tackle the role of Maura, who shares tales of loss and wanderlust in Carry Me Over the Sea. In her solo performance of I Know Moonrise, Catherine Russell, one of the finest singers working in jazz and blues today, gives an interpretation of a traditional enslaved burial rite that sent the deceased’s soul back home to Africa.
Bluesman Guy Davis goes inside the John Boston character with a story of escape and redemption in Leaving This Lonesome Land. In the track that follows, he reads aloud Boston’s impassioned letter to his wife. Van Dyke Parks, one of Trischka’s longtime friends and musical heroes, contributes a deliciously buoyant, almost whimsical arrangement of Big Round Top March. As the big battle nears, Brian O’Donovan, father of singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan, explains the oft-overlooked plight of the drummer boys. O’Connell and Daves, reprising their roles as Maura and Cyrus, exchange words of devotion, before the Violent Femmes sound a battle cry with a stark and gothic take on the traditional-sounding Southern Soldier.
Trischka’s banjo—or, rather, his enviable collection of banjos—is a consistently beautiful presence throughout Shall We Hope, serving as a reminder of the facility, taste, and sense of daring that made him a roots music phenomenon all those years ago.
Rounder Records introduced Tony Trischka in 1974 with his debut solo record, Bluegrass Light. Former banjo wunderkind Béla Fleck studied under Trischka, and remains a lifelong friend and frequent collaborator. Since then he has delivered album after album of innovative banjo music, like with his pal, Steve Martin, and others on Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular (2007) and Great Big World (2014). Tony produced Martin’s Grammy-nominated Rounder album from 2011, Rare Bird Alert, with performances by the Steep Canyon Rangers, Paul McCartney, and the Chicks.
In 2017, Trischka was inducted into the American Banjo Hall of Fame in the instruction and education category, noting his tremendously popular online banjo teaching courses with ArtistWorks, which have thrived during the COVID experience.
Once again, Tony has set the world afire with his banjo, and his storytelling, skills. BRAVO Tony Trischka!