You’ve probably heard of rock operas, but would you believe a Civil War banjo opera? Once you hear that it’s a Tony Trischka project, you’ll probably think, “Oh, okay, yeah.”
Trischka has been pushing genre boundaries since his first album nearly 50 years ago. Shall We Hope is 18 tracks of spoken word, music, and soulful vocals that tells a story of six characters.
It features appearances by several guests, including the folk punk group Violent Femmes and actor John Lithgow as Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
But none of that overshadows the banjo virtuosity of Trischka, who takes the instrument up and down and all over in ways never imagined on a traditional bluegrass album, which this is most certainly not.
The sum of the parts of this banjo create something special and apart from the single songs or parts, although “I Know Moon-Rise” stands out as does “Leaving this Lonesome Road,” which is part bluegrass with soulful singing from Guy Davis. “Big Round Top March” is a Sousa-like marching tune. The last musical offering is “O Captain! My Captain” which offers a banjo showcase with fine picking all around.
Lithgow’s reading of FDR’s words at the dedication of the Eternal Light Peace Memorial on July 3, 1938 at Gettysburg wrap up the show.
Trischka’s website calls the CD “a dramatized listening experience,” which is no doubt the best way to say listeners might consider treating this like a podcast or radio show rather than an album with individual songs and listen to it from start to finish in one sitting. It’s perfect for a long drive.
There might not be much radio play of these well-orchestrated tunes simply because they interconnect to make a unified message.
A project with so many hands that touched it, by a master of the five string, produced over the course of a dozen years might demand some special treatment and Shall We Hope certainly deserves some extra attention.