BANJO DANCER Stephen Wade may have left town, but there's a clangorous contingent of fellow plectrists headed this way. Indeed, the Friday night show at the Barns of Wolf Trap is billed as a "Banjo Extravaganza," featuring three of the best and brightest sounding: Tony Trischka, Tony Furtado and Tom Adams. Here's a glimpse of what they and some similarly gifted guitar pickers have recorded recently.
"Dust on the Needle" (Rounder). This best-of collection rounds up 17 tunes from six of Trischka's albums, tosses in three bonus tracks and features a stellar cast of bluegrass-new acoustic music players, among them Tony Rice, Darol Anger, Russ Barenberg, Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas. A venturesome soul, Trischka doesn't favor a sound so much as sounds. He's forever mixing it up on this anthology, reviving some traditional tunes, notably "Black Mountain Rag," but mostly focusing on original material, including some pieces cleverly arranged with reeds, synthesizers and drums. In the end, though, banjo, guitar, dobro and mandolin rule.
"Swamped" (Rounder). Another five-string wiz, Furtado shares Trischka's affection for jazzier chords and textures, which explains why he chose to include a version of Charlie Parker's "Blues for Alice" here. The album draws much of its appeal, however, from more traditional tunes and settings. Particularly affecting is the Celtic medley that serves as the album's centerpiece; it gracefully moves duet and trio pieces into a strings and percussion quintet arrangement of "The Broken Pledge." "Golden Eagle Hornpipe" later expands on that mood, and "Old Homestead Waltz," another highlight, is every bit as charming and quaint as it sounds.
"Right Hand Man" (Rounder). Perhaps the only good thing to come of the Johnson Mountain Boys breakup will be solo albums like this. Now a member of the Lynn Morris Band, Adams is reunited here with mandolinist David McLaughlin, fiddler Eddie Stubbs and bassist Marshall Wilborn on series of spare but fresh arrangments of bluegrass, country and pop standards. Although Stubbs is heard fleetingly -- Ray Legere does most of the fiddling, and with considerable flair -- his duets with Adams easily rank among the album highlights. Other standout tracks include a vigorously driven "Bluegrass Breakdown" and neatly tailored arrangements of "You Are My Sunshine" and "Old Rugged Cross."
Norman Blake and Tony Rice
"2" (Rounder). Here's a sequel that actually tops the original collaboration. Of course, some of the credit for that has to go to Doc Watson, who has a few cameos and really sparks the action on "Lost Indian," "Blackberry Blossom" and "Salt Creek." Yet it's the ballads that really set the album apart. Blake is one of the finest narrative songwriters around, as "Lincoln's Funeral Train (The Sad Journey to Springfield)" attests, and Rice's singing on "Eight More Miles to Louisville" and "Georgie" is first-rate. Acoustic guitar fans who cruise pawn shops in search of a six-string bargain will also find a novelty called "D-18 Song (Thank You, Mr Martin)" hard to resist.
"New Market Gap" (Rounder). Being Tony's younger brother, Wyatt Rice was more or less born to the manner. On this, his first solo album, the emphasis is on standards. He moves with extraordinary speed and finesse through a solid collection of tunes dotted with Bill Monroe pieces, fleshing them out with sparkling guitar solos and underpinning them with crisp rhythms. His mournful version of "I Am Pilgrim," featuring violinist Rickie Simpkins, and the swift, spirited "New Camptown Races" may be worlds apart in tone and mood, but they have one thing in common -- great craft.