Students and aficionados of the clawhammer-style banjo will love this sparkling and captivating debut album by lifelong Baltimore resident Brad Kolodner. Kolodner, who in the past has performed and recorded extensively with his father Ken (founder and long-time member of the group Helicon) and with Charm City, his own “old-time bluegrass fusion” band, really mixes things up on these 15 cuts.
One the one hand, he serves up imaginative reprieves of Irish (“Killavil Fancy”), Scottish (“Campbell’s Farewell to Red Gap”) and Greek (“Mr. Pantaleish”) traditionals, playing clawhammer-style on some cuts and switching to fretless gourd banjo on others. These oldies are balanced with a number of delightful original instrumentals, often inspired by quotidian observations or emotions. The arrangements tend to hew to the traditional yet also include contemporary instrumental explorations.
The creative spark for the title tune came from Kolodner watching birds flying down a factory chimney behind his Baltimore rowhouse. “Catalpa Hop” is a stirring instrumental paeon to a stately tree in his front yard. On the traditional “Blue Violet Waltz” he’s assisted by his father on hammer dulcimer. And a handful of other fellow musicians join him on a provocative reprise of Earl Scruggs’ classic banjo tune “Foggy Mountain Special.”
All in all, Chimney Swifts is a passionate and adventurous admixture of traditional and contemporary explorations, all within the context of the banjo.