Drawing on Appalachian textures and filtering them through a trio format, acclaimed banjoist Nathan Bowles delivers his latest album, ‘Plainly Mistaken,’ with the addition of fellow band members Rex McMurry on drums and Casey Toll on double bass. Opening with a version of Julie (Driscoll) Tippett’s haunting ‘Now If You Remember,’ Bowles invites us along on a journey of ethereal soundscapes while stretching the limits of the instruments on display.
The trio performs on just over half the album, including the over ten-minute ‘The Road Reversed,’ which takes Appalachian instrumentation down to North Mississippi into Junior Kimbrough droning/trance territory. Cousin Emmy’s bluegrass/Appalachian classic ‘Ruby’ is paired with one of two versions of original drone piece ‘In Kind.’ Bowles and company also deliver a beautiful reading of West Virginia fiddle legend Ernie Carpenter’s ‘Elk River Blues,’ first recorded by Bowles on 2012’s ‘A Bottle, A Buckeye.’ Here it’s given a trio arrangement, but the mournful feel remains.
Elsewhere, ‘Fresh and Fairly So’ chugs along on a groovy half-time beat and is the most traditional-sounding original found here, while the hypnotic ‘Umbra’ allows one to envision what new age visionary guitarist Michael Hedges would have sounded like with a banjo.
Overall, the trio setting suits Bowles’s experiments perfectly, allowing him to stretch musically while maintaining firm footing with the help of an adventurous, yet grounding, pair of accomplished musicians. ‘Plainly Mistaken’ is another example of Nathan Bowles’s mastery of his instrument and it’s a wonder to see how far he can stretch the possibilities of the banjo.
Acclaimed banjoist expands his sound to a full band setting