Tony Trischka - Great Big World
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Great Big World (Rounder, 2014)

Tony Trischka

Reviewed by Larry Stephens

Tony Trischka is an ambassador for the banjo, a role shared with Bela Fleck and taken up in recent years by Steve Martin. In fact, Martin appears on one track of "Great Big World," playing clawhammer on "Promontory Point." This is an interesting number that features an instrument that, while not rare, isn't common, the cello banjo, and will take many banjo enthusiasts into new ground. Trischka then plays a five-part number using a separate single string for each part, an innovative approach that plays out quite well.

The banjo is used across a variety of genres. Many music lovers associate it with bluegrass, and Trischka is no stranger there, appearing and recording with a variety of bluegrass artists. Included here are "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight," an old Johnny Bond number recorded many times by both bluegrass and country artists, and "Belated Wedding Hoedown/Angelina Baker." The latter has been recorded by a variety of bluegrass artists in the past handful of years. Switching to ragtime, Trischka offers "Swag Bag Rag," a minimal arrangement with just banjo and rhythm from the cello banjo.

When you've searched for a classification definition and run out of choices, you can default to "roots." "Wild Bill Hickok" is a roots number, a fanciful rendition of Hickok's storied life, featuring Mike Compton and Ramblin' Jack Elliot trading vocals and actor John Goodman doing a spoken piece. Most of the numbers, including "Hickok," were composed by Trishka.

Going in a different direction, "Ocracoke Lullabye" is a quiet, dreamy number that includes a harp and cello, while "Joy" moves back and forth from a swinging pedal steel guitar and electric bass to an old, spiritual sound. This is one of three numbers that are family affairs, with son Sean Trischka playing drums. He plays mandolin on the neo bluegrass "Say Goodbye" (the harmony vocals stray from that genre) and proves to be an excellent mandolinist. Daughter Zoe makes a brief appearance in "Amanda & Her Amazing Dancing Ducks," part 1 of the "Single String Medley."

Trischka's talent is unquestioned and his music has a flair that can't be contained by any single genre. With "Great Big World" he and his score-and-10 group of musicians take listeners on a musical trip, giving them a patchwork variety of music for entertainment, bound together by a thread of excellence.

CDs by Tony Trischka

Great Big World, 2014 Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular, 2007

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