All American, All Original, Solo 5-String Banjo
All American, All Original*, Solo 5-String Banjo
By Eric Karlstrom
The 5-string banjo is a distinctly American instrument. Although it is normally associated with bluegrass and old-timey music, I’ve discovered that it also makes an excellent solo instrument. Indeed, the banjo can render quite a wide variety of musical styles and moods- all by itself.
This collection of my original, solo 5-string banjo instrumentals includes a variety of styles, including traditional bluegrass and old timey-style tunes, numerous melodic waltzes and ballads, and a few mildly “progressive” songs.
Of all the stringed instruments, I’d say the 5-string banjo probably has the most “attitude.” It rings brighter and has more snap, crackle, and punch than the guitar, harp, or piano. And yet the banjo can also produce a surprising range of mellow, even delicate tones. To appreciate the rich, fat, round tone of this particular banjo, my mid-1930’s Gibson T-11 conversion, I recommend you turn up the volume of your sound system a few notches, as I always do. Then the banjo sounds come alive; notes cascade, chime, bark, bite, flow, and sparkle; high notes ring like bells, harmonics yield harp-like tones, and low notes growl and pop.
Perhaps most importantly, though, the banjo is probably unsurpassed in it’s capacity for making happy, even joyful music. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to be in a bad mood when playing or hearing the banjo. As Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts” character, Linus, sagely observed: “When a little baby is born into this cold world, he’s confused! The way I see it, as soon as a baby is born, he should be issued a banjo!”
For those who were never issued a banjo, then, as well as the fortunate ones who were, I am happy to offer this, my second all-original, solo banjo CD. Like the first, “Stone River Banjo Anthology” (2015), this project was recorded at Don Richmond’s Howlin’ Dog Recording Studio in Alamosa, CO. Many thanks, Don!
In order to provide an interesting mix and variety of musical styles on this CD, I have placed the 9 songs newly-composed on and for the banjo in the odd numbered slots (songs 1, 3, 5, etc.) and my banjo adaptations of 7 of my piano and guitar compositions in the even-numbered slots (2, 4, 6, etc.). The songs written for banjo tend to be more up-tempo, while the banjo versions of my guitar and piano compositions are comparatively slow, mellow, melodic, and lyrical.
Specifically, songs 4, 8, 10, and 14 are adapted from instrumentals featured on my “The River” and “Wyoming Waltz” solo piano CDs and songs 2, 6, and 12 are adapted from songs featured on “All God’s Critters,” “Guitar Reflections Volume 2: Solos and Duets,” and “Paradise Divide,” respectively (www.erickarlstrom.com).
And just for fun, I’ve added the vocal tune, “Ol’ Slew Foot” (#16), to showcase the 5-string in its more traditional, bluegrass band context. (That’s me singing and playing guitar and banjo, with Don Richmond playing bass on that cut.)
Happy listening! Eric Karlstrom, August, 2018
*All songs composed by Eric Karlstrom except Ol’ Slew Foot (by Howard Crocker and James C. Webb).