Review: Tony Trischka – Hill Country

This is a CD reissue of Tony Trischka’s first Bluegrass LP, first recorded in 1985 and long out of print. His reputation as a preeminent avant-garde banjo player firmly established, he paused here to pay tribute to the musicians who had influenced him from the beginning, including Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, The Country Gentlemen, and others. With the exception of one traditional tune (“Mississippi Sawyer”) and another co-written with Sonny Osborne, all selections are originals by Trischka, each a tipping of the hat to a particular stylist.

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“Strawberry Plains”

Lest one get the impression from the above description that this is a gimmick record a la “The Baroque Beatles Songbook,” let me stress that this is a terrific album and an impressive demonstration not only of his technical virtuosity but of his solid grounding in what is essential in the music. In his liner notes to the original album, referring to his early idols, he wrote, “I tried to absorb not just the techniques of their music, but the emotion as well.” That he succeeded is evident in every cut. There isn’t a single run-of-the-mill number here; every one is a fresh surprise, from the melodic use of harmonics on “New York Chimes” to the syncopated, convoluted rolls on “Strawberry Plains” (my favorite).

Over the two recording sessions, in Nashville and Springfield, Virginia, Tony is accompanied by a stellar group including Tony Rice, Sam Bush, Del and Ronnie McCoury, Blain Sprouse and more. The CD contains one bonus track, “Buffalo Creek,” recorded in 2000.

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