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Fiddle & Banjo

Tunes from the North, Songs from the South – 2015 (Kos Green Music)

Reviewed by Sam Gazdziak

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When two masters of musical instruments like Karrnnel Sawitsky and Daniel Koulack get together to make music, the results are going to be good. By themselves, Sawitsky (fiddle) and Koulack (banjo) are a delight to listen to; as a duet called Fiddle & Banjo, they join forces to find new life in ancient songs, giving each other room to shine in some spaces and joining together for a beautiful combination in others.

"Tunes from the North, Songs from the South" features Fiddle & Banjo playing a mix of dance tunes and traditional instrumentals from their Canadian homeland, as well as traditional songs from Appalachia. Joey Landreth of The Bros. Landreth joins in, adding guitar and vocals to the likes of "Groundhog" and "Little Birdie." Landreth has a soulful voice that fits in well with his contemporary band and made the group's debut disc from earlier this year so enjoyable. On these traditional songs, he takes a different vocal approach than the usual versions, and in doing so, he gives them a bluesy edge that still blends well with the traditional fiddle and banjo interplay. "How Does a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live" closes the album and is a particularly timely traditional tune, even though it was written during the Great Depression.

On the instrumentals, it's impossible to decide who shines brightest, as Sawitsky and Koulack enjoy a tremendous give and take with each other. Koulack shows off his clawhammer skills to their fullest on "Rubin," while Sawitsky keeps mainly to the background, adding some flourishes here and there. On "The Old French Set," he jumps to the forefront, while Koulack ably keeps up with him.

Aside from the songs where Landreth sings, the album features no other accompaniment, leaving the two master musicians to their own devices. Considering Sawistky's and Koulack's abilities, the addition of anything more would have just taken away from the feel of the album. Thanks to their fiddle and banjo playing, there's nothing much more that a listener would want.