The banjo has made a significant contribution to Americana dating back in its earliest forms to thirteenth-century sub-Saharan cultures. It almost certainly reached America with slaves during the eighteenth century and by the nineteenth century it was being accompanied by that Northern European import, the fiddle. Appalachian folk music adopted the instrument creating new interpretations of European folk tunes eventually leading to legendary banjo exponent, Earl Scruggs influencing many players of the twentieth century.
What’s not to like in the twangy goodness of this instrument? Whether it is providing the backing rhythm or taking more of the limelight, the banjo can convey a lonesome, jubilant or sometimes angry message. The following tracks are personal favourites and will hopefully lead to some new introductions; let’s get picking!
Dillard and Clark – ‘Git It On Brother’
‘Git It On Brother’ comes from the classic 1968 album, ‘The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark’ recorded by former Byrds member Gene Clark and Doug Dillard formerly of The Dillards. The track owes much to traditional bluegrass but also has a foot in the mood of the late sixties.
Dock Boggs – ‘Country Blues’
lending Appalachian folk music with African American blues, the wonderfully named, Dock Boggs showcases his unique style on this track.
Old School Freight Train – ‘Superstition’
Not a song that might immediately spring to mind for fans of Americana, but rest assured this version is given an inspired rendition featuring trusty banjo and fiddle.
The Dillards – ‘Banjo in the Hollow’
Aforementioned, Doug Dillard contributes to this track which comes from the album, ‘Back Porch Bluegrass’. It sets a breakneck pace and it’s all over in less than two minutes.
The Cleverlys – ‘She’s Not There’
The Cleverlys are a family Bluegrass band from Arkansas; the original version is of course by that good old Kentucky mountain band, The Zombies.
Ron Block – ‘Clinch Mountain Back-Step’
A great foot tapper from Ron Block of Union Station fame.
Gillian Welch – ‘One Morning’
There is a desolate feel to this track that reflects the import of the lyrics, which could not have been conveyed without the banjo.
Damien O’Kane & Ron Block – ‘No Harm Done’
Irish musician, O’Kane teamed up with Block to produce the album from which this track is taken: ‘Banjophony’. Bringing a Celtic flavour to the mix, this brings the banjo into the 21st century.
Old Crow Medicine Show – ‘Carry me Back to Virginia’
Grand Ole Opry inductee, Grammy Award-winning; Old Crow Medicine Show don’t stint on their credentials and it’s hard not to love this track.
Alan Jackson – ‘Appalachian Mountain Girl’
With 16 studio albums under his belt, Jackson’s playing shines on this Bluegrass inspired track.