Three fine new banjo CDs

Banjo CDs are coming out of the woodwork, it seems. Just in the past few weeks, we have received stellar releases from Dan Menzone, Jessie Baker and Chris Warner. Each is distinctive in its own way, and all should have appeal for five string pickers and fans of banjo music.

Dan Menzone - FrostbiteDan Menzone was not a familiar name to me until Wyatt Rice called to let me know about Frostbite, Dan’s latest CD. Wyatt had recorded the album at his studio, and also provided the guitar. Along with Menzone on banjo, other players include Rickie Simpkins on fiddle and mandolin, Ronnie Simpkins on bass and Roger Williams on resonator guitar.

Dan wrote 8 of the 13 tunes on the CD, and he plays with a solid, driving, bluesy sound often associated with pickers from the VA, TN, NC, KY region, though he was born and raised in south-central Massachusetts. He currently performs with TrueGrass, based in Connecticut.

Wyatt told us that he had a very high opinion of Frostbite, but since he had been so intimately involved in its production, wanted to get a more objective read from big brother, Tony.

“Tony really liked this CD. I handed it him while we were riding to a gig, and he stuck in the player of his Mustang and listened all the way through. He liked the CD so well he provided a quote for the cover.”

Not too shabby…

In addition to his originals, Dan includes his takes on classics like Black Jack, Wheel Hoss and Randy Lynn Rag. You can hear audio samples from all the tracks on Menzone’s web site or CD Baby.

Chris Warner - Goin To The DanceChris Warner’s is a name familiar to any serious banjo lover. His work with Jimmy Martin cemented his name in the five string firmament, and the whole banjo community has been delighted to have Chris active again, both performing and recording, in recent years.

His newest release on Patuxent is Goin’ To The Dance, and while it’s not a purely banjo CD, Warner’s name and presence earn it a mark in that checkbox. In fact, it sounds more like a band project, a powerful testament to Warner’s skills as a producer.

Tom Adams plays guitar and handles much of the lead vocals, Michael Cleveland and Patrick McAvinue provide the fiddle, with Dick Laird and Mark Seitz on mandolin, and Steve Street and Heath Laird on bass.

Al of the tracks are songs/tunes that Warner wrote, with the exception of two traditional fiddle tunes (Bonaparte’s Retreat and Turkey Buzzard – the latter a top flight duet with Cleveland), a new song from Carroll Swam, and a retelling of Leavin’ Town, the classic Jimmy Martin/Paul Williams instrumental. Out of 14 tracks, 8 are vocals, with Darren Beachley singing on two of them. The rest are banjo tunes.

All of the music is hard-driving, traditional bluegrass with a strong Jimmy Martin vibe, as this audio from the title track attests..

Goin’ To The Dance – Listen Now       []

Great stuff. You can order the CD from Patuxent Music.

Jessie baker - Yessir!Jessie Baker is a relative newcomer in the banjo world. Not yet 20 years old, he has been touring with Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper for just over a year, and had stints with Wildfire, The Wildwood Valley Boys, The Karl Shiflett and Big Country Show, and his family’s band, The Baker Boys before hooking up with Michael.

But you’d never guess his age from listening to the music from his debut solo release, Yessir!, also on Patuxent. Other than the title track, which is a Baker original, all the songs are popular banjo standards where Jessie pays homage to those who have come before him. There are two from Don Reno (Follow The Leader and Banjo Riff), one Earl Scruggs classic (Farewell Blues), and one that traces to former Johnson Mountain Boys banjoist Richard Underwood (Johnson Mountain Chimes).

Baker also includes tuneful banjo renditions of Nine Pound Hammer, San Antonio Rose, Bury Me Beneath The Willow and a Jim Mills-esque arrangement of Jesus Savior Pilot Me. He plays with power and authority throughout.

Baker is assisted by Dudley Connell on guitar, David McLaughlin on mandolin, Marshall Wilborn on bass, and Michael Cleveland on fiddle.

You can hear samples from all the tracks, and purchase downloads at CD Baby or DigStation.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.