There's a number of different ways to talk about how much I love the new album from British Columbia bluegrass banjo master Nick Hornbuckle (part of John Reischman & The Jaybirds), but I think the simplest is to first say that I listened to this every day at IBMA when driving back to my rented house. After a day at a convention center filled to bursting with a thousand amazing bluegrass bands, this was my go-to CD to put on and relax. That means that Nick Hornbuckle can easily stand with the best bluegrass musicians in the nation, but it also means that he's crafted an album of bluegrass banjo instrumentals that sounds radically different from anything we might be used to. Some of that comes from John Reischman's influence, since Reischman is known for his remarkably subtle re-intrepretations of bluegrass that hews more towards old-time Appalachian than Nashville. As Reischman's banjo player for years, Hornbuckle's fit himself perfectly into the Jaybirds' meditations on traditional Appalachian music with a Northwest twist. Hornbuckle's new album also features Reischman himself on mandolin/mandola along with fiddler Miriam Sonstenes and clawhammer banjo player Shanti Bremer of lovely Victoria BC roots trio The Sweet Lowdown (who we just started working with at Hearth), and Emma Beaton of Joy Kills Sorrow on cello, so Hornbuckle's drawing from the best, most progressive roots musicians in British Columbia.
In the end, all credit goes to Hornbuckle himself for doing what SO few bluegrass musicians (especially those on the progressive edge) are doing these days: putting the tunes first. It takes a truly masterful musician to realize that these old melodies can speak for themselves. You don't need to do shit to Cumberland Gap to make it better; it's already one of the most beautiful mountain melodies every written. Hornbuckle gets this to his core and arranges his playing and the other musicians in order to best feature the melodies of this music. Innovative and beautiful chords from the other players draw these tunes into slightly new places, and in some cases, he just sits back and meditates on a great melody. Check out his version of "Lost Girl," one of my favorite old time tunes (first heard it from Foghorn Stringband), and you'll hear what I mean. And pick up this album for yourself! It's still on near-constant repeat at HearthHQ!