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CHRIS GROTEWOHL "Under the Influence" Fifth String Music 04532

This enjoyable and interesting album features lively, bright and positive banjo playing from Chris Grotewohl. His playing is rhythmically strong and confident throughout, with a dexterous and nimble touch which never becomes heavy. Chris G is from Kansas and there's such a range of styles of tunes on his album that it wouldn't have been misleading to have subtitled it "From Dublin to Kansas and Back". About half of the tunes were written by Chris, the others being traditional. I think they sit together comfortably and on sets where he switches between old and new he's judged the impact well. The variety is refreshing and the effect is never disjointed.

The recording quality is clean and pleasant on the ear, with the banjo clear and up front. In most of the arrangements the top line is played on the four melody strings and on informal listening it would be easy to imagine that the instrument is a tenor, rather than a five-string banjo. There's an interesting variety of tones from the instrument, which I'm sure is deliberate. To a banjo devotee this may be highly meaningful and of great significance but to me it was just ... interesting!

Among the other musical contributions there is some subtle and tasteful work on bodhran and some driving, chunky and to my ears sometimes thumping, guitar accompaniment (I must be getting old). The occasional keyboard backup is nicely arranged and nimbly played, with a bounce that's reminiscent of Shetland or New England piano styles. The fiddle and banjo combine well together and the addition of uilleann pipes gives a lift to the top line. In fact, for me the banjo, fiddle and pipes sound great together and I would have enjoyed hearing these three playing some sets without accompaniment. This is my only reservation. What we have here is impressive and innovative banjo playing, good tunes and a very enjoyable album.

John Scaife

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This album was reviewed in Issue 22 of The Living Tradition magazine.