Teenage New Yorker’s accomplished album of traditional banjo music.
The expectation is that old time music is most authentic when played by true old timers; musicians deep into long lives, living and breathing the hand me down traditions of ancient musical forms. Decades of finely honed instrumental skill imbued with enough life experience to properly frame the purity of the sounds of the past are factors in the eternal gravity that folk music holds. Occasionally however there are exceptions to this assumption, and one such musician making a big impression is teenage banjo virtuoso Nora Brown.
The sixteen year old from Brooklyn, NYC began playing stringed instruments at the age of six before going on to study with noted masters of Appalachian music and releasing her first album in 2019. Lauded as “impossibly talented” by Fretboard Journal, Brown now returns with her third full-length album, ‘Long Time To Be Gone’. Recorded at the historic St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn Heights, a large 19th century building with vaulted stone ceilings, the set comprises a largely instrumental collection of soulful, mesmerizing banjo tunes and songs.
‘Long Time To Be Gone’ seamlessly fuses the raw intimacy of a folk field recording, the hi-fi audio fidelity of a studio album and the lively ambience of a beautiful, resonant acoustic space. Brown plays with a rare beauty and depth seemingly at odds with her young age. The apparent ease and prowess with which she delivers each faultless performance (captured by producer Eli Smith) is mightily impressive. Sonically the album exists in a place that seems to hover weightlessly between speaker and ear, a presence in the recording that pulls the listener into the middle of the performance. “We experimented with the sound that different locations in the church produced, mics were configured around the room,” Nora explains. “On the tracks you can hear the expanse of the space pretty clearly, which was really important to our approach on these recordings.” Contributing to the antique vibe of the record is her arsenal of vintage instruments, including an 1888 Ludscomb banjo owned by her great-great-grandfather, and a fretless banjo built by her father.
It will be fascinating to observe Nora Brown’s development as a musician. With youth on her side and an abundance of raw talent, it’s a tantalising prospect to imagine the level and status she’ll reach as she eventually becomes one of those old timers herself.