'Take It Easy But Take It' by Neil Driscoll

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Neil Driscoll
Take It Easy But Take It
Neil Driscoll ( www.neildriscollart.com )

The banjo is a drum. The head of a banjo and the head of a drum are basically the same. And banjos are commonly played in very rhythmic ways. In the earliest jazz recordings we hear the banjo used as the primary rhythmic instrument (think about Johnny St. Cyr with Louis Armstrong's Hot Five). And most of the banjo heard today has a strong rhythmic component, whether played in an old-time clawhammer way or three-fingered bluegrass style.

Neil Driscoll approaches the banjo in a different way, treating it more as a melodic instrument, taking a role I'd expect a fiddle or maybe a clarinet to take. For example, on “You Look So Good to Me I Hope I Look So Good to You,” the melody is doubled by banjo and whistle. The syncopated melody of “Goin' Down Pokeville” is played fiddle-style (with a fiddler playing the harmony lines). There are times when the fiddler takes over the melody and the banjo falls into a more old-timey role, but that's the exception that proves the rule.

There are different styles represented here, from jazzy numbers to tunes that would fit in on Tin Pan Alley to klezmer to sounds that are difficult to name. “Passer Un Regard (Passing Glance)” adds some spoken word from two female voices, both speaking in French. “La Tuna De San Jacinto” also has spoken word, this time in a male voice in Spanish. Neither are standard fare for what I expect when I think about a banjo record.

The liner notes say Driscoll plays clawhammer style. I'd have guessed he played most of these songs with a plectrum, using a technique more akin to a mandolin or the Irish style of playing tenor banjo. A search of the standard Internet video sites didn't reveal any film of his playing, but I'd sure like to see what it he's doing for this unique approach and sound.

This record may take your mind in entirely different ways than it took mine, and I find that a very good thing in any musical situation. Take It Easy But Take It is an enjoyable outing by a new-to-me banjo player. I really like the course Neil Driscoll is charting and the way he pushes me to think differently about the banjo. - Greg Harness

Visit the artist online: www.neildriscollart.com

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