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October 9, 2009

Paul Smith - Mysterious Barricades: The Banjo Redefined

This is an incredible banjo album. It's so beautiful!!! (and that's an odd word to be paired with such a rude-sounding instrument)... It also continues to confirm my notion that every single record issued by Flying Fish was great (or every one I've heard so far at least). Moreover, he paved the way for Béla Fleck and Alison Brown, both of whom went on to become much more famous than he. Indeed, he's pretty much impossible to find information on, and I'm pretty sure this is his only record. God, it's good though... really. The best ragtime banjo number I've ever heard (his arrangement of Joseph Lamb's 'Ragtime Nightingale' is simply stunning), and classical banjo to match the great John Bullard. And really interesting original pieces, kinda dawgy but with less jazz and more classical and Celtic influence. There's even a traditional Irish number, done fingerstyle on a 5-string. Really, this guy could have been what Béla Fleck has become, but he never wowed everybody with his bluegrass chops, so he never really became famous. Ah, well. Another forgotten masterpiece, prime for blogging!

Paul Smith - Mysterious Barricades: The Banjo Redefined

Year: 1981
Label: Flying Fish

Review by Brian Olewnick

Banjoist Paul Smith presented here a selection of works divided between traditional folk and bluegrassy pieces and works from the classical repertoire rearranged for banjo. The former are the most attractive, including songs like his own "Missouri," sounding a bit like David Grisman's work from around the same period, and the Irish tune "Julia Delaney," a delightful romp giving Smith's nimble fingers a good workout. The title cut was originally a harpsichord work by François Couperin, played solo here and quite appealingly, the hollow banjo chords giving the short piece some breathing room. The little-known Joseph Lamb's "Ragtime Nightingale" is an unexpected delight with a subtlety of line and mysterious quality that compares reasonably well with Scott Joplin. The Beethoven and Vivaldi compositions work less well, coming off as slightly precious and overly benign. There's a bit too much self-consciousness in Smith's avowed attempts to "redefine" the banjo. One would have wished he simply relaxed and played pieces like "The Last Minute" and "Julia Delaney" and stopped worrying so much. As is, Mysterious Barricades is generally enjoyable and a fine banjo showcase, but it could have been much more.

Paul Smith, banjo and fiddle
Adam Rose, guitar
John Held, piano
Tudy McLain, flute
Paul Kotapish, bouzouki
Kundry Berger, piano and harpsichord
Joe Bichsell, cello

01 Missouri
02 Beethoven: Sonatina in C for mandolin and piano w/o 44.
03 Pythagoras
04 Julia Delaney
05 Les Barricades Mystérieuses
06 Ragtime Nightingale
07 The Last Minute
08 Tim's Flatted Fifth
09 Vivaldi: Concerto in D for lute, two violins, and continuo; I. Allegro
10 Vivaldi: Concerto in D for lute, two violins, and continuo; II. Largo
11 Vivaldi: Concerto in D for lute, two violins, and continuo; III. Allegro

pythagorian mysteries.
fresh vinyl rip, cleaned | mp3 >256kbps

I'm really curious about ragtime, classical, and Irish music played on the 5-string banjo. If any of you have Fred Sokolow - Ragtime Banjo, Bluegrass Style, or John Bullard - Bach on Banjo, I'd love to hear them. Or others I may not know about!


Anonymous said...

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

What an incredible slew of posts! Thanks so much for all this incredible music and terrific writing too.

Anonymous said...

good day Irate-Pascal Diatta is reuploaded and reposted with all respect here:
a more serious issue: i can't get access to SFRP,I have the suspicion that this applies to everyone,please let me know in my comments.

Jeremy said...

Quite amazing, IP, I pretty much forgot I was listening to banjo for most of this record - which is a good thing, on the whole, as I'm not the instrument's biggest fan. As ever, though, your recommendations prove to be worth checking out. It's been a busy week for you, lots of great stuff, thanks as always. BTW will you be coming to the UK too or only Eire?

The Irate Pirate said...

I will be going to the UK too, traveling around it for about 3 weeks before heading into Ireland. Any recommendations?

Jeremy said...

Cool. Will have a look around and a think, but it depends quite when and where you're here and what you'd like to see/hear/drink. Perhaps e-mail/twitter better for conversing in depth? Or comment on my blog, where comments will only display if I explictly publish them.

Anonymous said...

Check out Paul's website:

Unknown said...

Thanks. Brilliant stuff.

mjs said...

Check out Chris Grotewohl for Irish music played with fingerpicks on the 5 string banjo. Ken Perlman used to do a lot of Irish music in clawhammer style.

Nice blog.