Kenny Smith Return

Kenny Smith - Return - Bluegrass UnlimitedKENNY SMITH
Gat 3 Records
No Number

Master musicians can do as they please. Consider playing well-known tunes. Where an average musician can include no more than one or two before attracting a jaundiced eye, masters can include as many as they want. On his latest recording Kenny Smith, a master guitarist by any definition, does just that. Of the fourteen tracks, seven are fiddle tune standards. Smith can include such tunes as “Forked Deer,” “Black Mountain Rag,” “Arkansas Traveler” and “Billy In The Lowground” bacause the vision he brings to them makes us hear them as if for the first time. He can take “Arkansas Traveler” and, while leaving enough of the original in our ear to keep us from being lost compeletely, twist and reharmonizing and deconstruct it into something fresh. “Billy…” and “Sail Away Ladies” receive varying degrees of the same treatment. “Leather Britches” is largely straight forward, but the tone is so attractive, particularly his twangy, close-to-the-bridge drones. “Black Mountain Rag,” on the other hand, is a pure showpiece of technique and spirit. Played with minor alterations the first pass, in the second solo, Smith lets his imagination run free and makes a warhorse a colt again.

The non-standards are four Smith originals and two creations from banjoist Jim Denman. Smith’s “Rising Fawn,” pairing his guitar with clawhammer banjoist Adam Hurt, honors the elegance and old-time drive of Norman Blake perfectly, while his “Modal A” has a nifty, back-and-forth note figure that propels the melody like those old car chase scenes. The Denman pieces are also very good, both employing quirky scales and note choices as their calling cards. “Half Step” takes it to the extreme, using melody notes that land a half step off where you think they should land. That sense of surprise is fun and intriguing, even with repeated plays.

Supported in high fashion by Barry Bales, Aubrey Haynie, Adam Steffey, Denham, Hurt and others, this is a masterful set of guitar instrumentals. (Gat3 Records, 655 Pressley Rd., Ste. E, Charlotte NC 28217, BW

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