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Local banjo purveyor selects top 'picks' of 2021

Clinton Davis.jpg
Courtesy of Tiki Parlor Recordings
Detail of the cover for Clinton Davis' album, "If I Live and Don't Get Killed," released on September 17, 2021.

While there are plenty of reasons to leave 2021 in the rearview mirror, one of the things we can be thankful for from the previous year is all the new music that was released. Today, this comes courtesy of Deering Banjo Company, who have been crafting the iconic stringed instruments out of their Spring Valley location since 1975. From bluegrass to blues, to world music and experimental, Deering CEO Jamie Deering offered some of the company's top picks for banjo recordings last year.

"I Shall Not Be Moved" by Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi

To those familiar with celebrated Americana Artist Rhiannon Giddens and her impressive body of work, it should come as no surprise that she’s come out with another great record - this time accompanied by her partner, Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi. The album is titled "They’re Calling Me Home," and it's a blend of original compositions and traditional songs that have been given new life thanks to Giddens’ hauntingly resonant voice. The tracks on the record encompass a distinct blend of old and new, and their version of the classic spiritual "I Shall Not Be Moved" has a particular significance given the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day earlier this week.

"Timeless" by Apoorva Krishna and Ryan Cavanaugh

"Timeless" is actually the sole appearance of a banjo on Apoorva Krishna’s recent album, "Intuition." The latest record by the highly accomplished South Indian violinist features eight richly conceived new tracks — all her own original compositions. Krishna's work is known for her seamless blending of her Indian classical influences with various styles of music from around the world, such as jazz, Latin, flamenco and bluegrass. She’s joined on the track by banjoist Ryan Cavanaugh, who adds this fantastic jolt of energy to Krishna’s layered composition. Cavanaugh was recommended to Krishna for this project by master guitarist John McLaughlin, and it’s not hard to see why. Hearing him pick away on top of Indian rhythms and percussion is a great example of what happens when two distinctly different musical styles merge to create something new and exciting.

"A Sparrow's Song" by Nefesh Mountain, with Jerry Douglas and Bryan Sutton

A personal favorite of Jamie Deering, "Songs for the Sparrows" is the latest full-length album release from Nefesh Mountain, who actually perform and play with Deering brand banjos. Their music is an interesting blend of bluegrass and traditional Jewish musical stylings that make for a smooth and soulful bluegrass experience. The strong playing style of Eric Lindberg, the main instrumentalist, really complements the tight vocal harmonies he shares with bandmate and wife, Doni Zasloff. "A Sparrow's Song" offers listeners a particularly hopeful feeling with inspiring lyrics that seem to respond especially to the past two years of hardship we’ve all had.

"Leaving This Lonesome Land" by Tony Trischka, with Guy Davis

Designed as a concept album that explores the strife of Civil War-era America, Tony Trischka's "Shall We Hope" takes listeners on as much a historical journey as it does a musical one. The experience of listening to the full album is a lot like listening to a play, where the songs, styles of playing, words and sounds completely transport you to an earlier time. To supplement Trischka's deft musical talent, an impressive stable of accomplished musicians and vocalists join in on various tracks. For "Leaving This Lonesome Land," that duty falls on celebrated blues guitarist Guy Davis, who is also a talented banjo player in his own right. To say nothing of the song’s evocative lyrics, Davis’ musical background really imbues this track with an unmistakable blues sensibility. The song is sparse, rhythmic and powerful, and it really conveys the historical weight that sits on this album.

"Curly Headed Woman" by Clinton Davis

Rounding out the list is a tune from local artist Clinton Davis, who's album "If I Live and Don't Get Killed" was recently released by Tiki Parlor Recordings. Davis cut the record during the pandemic, and described the album as his own form of social distancing. That somber approach is definitely made apparent in some of the more stripped-down tracks, which really embody the high lonesome sound of bluegrass greats like Roscoe Holcomb or Tommy Jarrell. Clinton plays all the instruments on this album, including banjo, mandolin, guitar, and piano - all of which really goes to show what a talented musician he is. Nothing on the album sounds the least bit rushed, and every song ripples with heart and nuance. From clawhammer open back to blues guitar, this record will practically transport the listener to a creaky back porch in Appalachia.

To find the full playlist of Deering Banjo Company's top picks for banjo recordings in 2021, you can visit blog.deeringbanjos.com