Aficionados of old time banjo music have long regarded Adam Hurt as one of its finest contemporary practitioners. The native of St Paul, MN now living near Danville, VA, seems to please every sort of old time enthusiast through his blending of multiple styles of clawhammer banjo into his own unique hybrid, which has been described as taking the more melodic “northern” drop thumb approach and affixing it to the “southern” rhythmic or dance-based style.
Hurt is a popular teacher of this type of playing, offering both private and online lessons, and is regularly included on the faculty of old time music camps and workshops around the country. His multiple recordings have drawn high praise from within his community.
For his next album, Back To The Earth, due in November, Adam returns to the gourd banjo which had been the focus of his celebrated 2010 project, Earth Tones. The gourd banjo is a modern replica of what musicologists believe was the forerunner to what we now know of the instrument, these days typically made from wood and metal components. A gourd banjo is most commonly fretless, strung with nylon strings, and with what we would today call the “pot” consisting of either a large gourd or small pumpkin, dried and hollowed, to serve as the sound chamber.
Examples do exist in museums of instruments that have survived from the time when west Africans captured by warring neighbors were sold into bondage, and brought to the Americas as slaves. Needless to say, they carried nothing with them on their journey, but many retained the knowledge of how to build these simple, banjo-like instruments that were played in northern and western Africa in the 16th century.
There are several modern builders who make these gourd banjos, sometimes making a rounded chamber of wood rather than using an actual gourd, some highly decorative. They all use a much smaller head, usually of animal skin, and offer a tone that bears little resemblance to either old time or bluegrass banjos made today. In fact, it is the playing that keys the ear to the fact that this is banjo music.
While Back To The Earth won’t be available until November 13, Hurt is offering one track from the record now to anyone who pre-orders from his bandcamp page. It’s his solo banjo rendition of The Scolding Wife, a reel that is believed to have originated in Ireland.
Have a listen below, and enjoy the growly low tones Adam produces with his gourd banjo, and his percussive yet melodic take on this ancient melody.
Visit the Adam Hurt bandcamp page to place your pre-order for Back To The Earth, and get an immediate download of The Scolding Wife.