Skip to main content

Reviews: New Banjo Book and Clarence Ashley Record in The Old-Time Herald

The latest issue of The Old-Time Herald is out now, and my writing appears in the form of two reviews in the magazine. They are for the LP Clarence Ashley, Live and In Person: Greenwich Village 1963 and for the book, Building New Banjos for an Old-Time World, by Richard Jones-Bamman.

You may have noticed I've written more reviews on this site over the last year, and I wanted to expand my writing portfolio a bit more. Last fall, I answered a general Facebook request by editor Sarah Bryan to recruit new reviewers, and these are my first to appear in the quarterly magazine. The spring issue also includes the annual festival guide, so you can plan your summer.

Clarence Ashley, Live and In Person  was released by Jalopy Records in April 2017. This is a vinyl-only release, compiled from two concerts at Gerdes Folk City in Greenwich Village in October 1963. He is accompanied by Tex Isley on guitar and autoharp. The LP includes an essay on the backcover by John Cohen and a 16-page booklet with notes by Peter K. Siegel, who recorded the concert. The album is available from the Jalopy Records website.

Building New Banjos for an Old-Time World was released in October 2017 by the University of Illinois Press. Author Jones-Bamman is emeritus professor of music at Eastern Connecticut State University. The book features several interviews with current banjo builders like Kevin Enoch, Jim Hartel, Jason and Pharis Romero and others. It also serves as a bit of a tribute to the legacy of Will Fielding, a wonderful builder based in Vermont who died in 2014. The book is available in hardcover and paperback through the University of Illinois Press website and Amazon.

If you want to know my opinions on both of these items, you'll just have to pick up the latest issue of The Old-Time Herald, or better yet become a subscriber. I'll be sure to alert you to future writings I do for the magazine.


Popular posts from this blog

Getting Blitzed with Tom Collins

A little more than a year ago, Salem, Massachusetts-based banjo player and teacher Tom Collins embarked on a yearlong project he called Banjo Blitz. The weekly YouTube series provided short banjo lessons on technique. Each video is about five minutes long, give or take, and presents a short pattern — or “ostinato” — designed to teach and improve a specific aspect of banjo playing.

The mission was to get the audience “to practice clawhammer in discrete chunks every day without the burden of trying to memorize tunes,” Collins says. He wanted to build skills rather than repertoire.

“Let’s take the tune off the table,” says Collins, who has been teaching banjo for 11 years. “Let’s focus on a simple, mantra-like ostinato that can train your body how to execute a technique properly, while training your ears how to hear it properly. Let’s also make it so that you can do this every day without it sucking every spare minute from your life. The big dirty secret about learning how to play an ins…

Clawhammer Picks and You: A Review

Clawhammer picks are a useful tool for increasing volume or to overcome fingernail challenges, such as broken, too short or weak nails. There are all sorts of commercial and homemade solutions available for banjo players, but it can be difficult to decide which options to choose. Thankfully, I've already done some of the work for you.
Just to be clear, I prefer my natural fingernail for frailing. However, there was a time when I experimented with regularly using a pick, and there are instances now where I find that a pick is necessary. Today, I'll take you through the five options I've tried. These are all available online at prices ranging from about $1 to $13.

Reversed/Reshaped Dunlop Pick ($0.75)
This was the most common suggestion before other companies started addressing the gap in the clawhammer pick market. Take a bluegrass pick, flatten it out and wear it backwards. The problem is that it's hard to get the fit right. While Dunlop picks are cheap and readily avai…

The Ongoing Search for Ohio's Old-Time Fiddle Repertoire

Since the beginning of my journey into old-time music, I have sought to find a connection to my home state. After studying the recorded repertoire of a dozen old-time fiddlers who spent a majority of their lives in Ohio, I have compiled a master list of more than 300 tunes. By cross-referencing this list, there were 12 tunes that I identified as “common,” based on their appearance in the repertoire of at least three fiddlers. The results of my findings follow.

This is far from a scientific method or academic study. I do not claim to be a musicologist or folklore scholar. I welcome any feedback.

Common Tunes:
Arkansas Traveler BirdieCumberland GapDurang’s HornpipeForked DeerGrey EagleJune AppleLeather BritchesMississippi SawyerRaggedy AnnTurkey in the StrawWild Horse At some point I would like to put together a list of tunes that are unique to Ohio or have a particular connection to an Ohio locale, such as Lonnie Seymour’s “Chillicothe Two-Step” or Arnold Sharp’s “Anna Hayes.” However,…