Ben Winship could be called a recording nerd. A diligent, dedicated muso, he's always looking for unique ways to present his music while holed up in his home studio, the Henhouse, located behind his house in tiny Victor, Idaho. It's not that he's a hermit; indeed he's shared his skills in a variety of venues, including the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, A Prairie Home Companion and the Vancouver Folk Festival.
Consequently, you have to credit a man who's so intent on making music that he chooses to record two albums at once (going solo for the first time in 22 years), in this case, "Acorns" and its companion piece of sorts, "Toolshed." Both efforts share similarities in their unpretentious approach to traditional Americana, replete with Winship's strumming on mandolin, guitar, fiddle, stand-up bass, brass and all the other accoutrements associated with down-home hymns from the heartland.
There are astute examples evident throughout both albums - The Band-like ode "Crossing the Great Divide" as well as the ragtime picking of "Ragged But Right" and "My Name's Mudd" from "Toolshed" and the astute instrumentals "A Little Goes a Long Way" and "Shakin' Down the Acorns," two of the traditional-sounding songs that grace "Acorns." It's string band music is the most ideal sense, each album augmented by an array of special guests that add their own embellishment Ivan Neville, Travis Book of the Infamous Stringdusters, Brittany Haas, Mollie O'Brien, Pharis Romero and Rayna Gellert, among the many. Indeed, despite the homegrown intents, these two efforts come across as eminently accomplished and precisely polished.
Winship may be satisfied to operate under the radar, but given the sprawling nature of releasing two projects simultaneously, and the craft and creativity imbued in these arrangements, he's clearly accomplished his goal. These two albums offer his best examples yet.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer and author based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles. His new book, Americana Music - Voices, Visionaries and Pioneers of an Honest Sound - is available from Texas A&M University Publishing.