Very Entertaining Records
It’s hard to play banjo and blaze new trails these days. Whether you’ve been raised on Earl Scruggs or Béla Fleck, unless you can corner a market like Pat Cloud did with bebop or Mark Johnson with clawgrass, comparisons will abound when you put out a new recording.
Charles Butler’s seven-tune CD, Sudden Sense Of Now, definitely lands with both feet in the newgrass fusion category. By balancing his five original compositions with a cover of Tony Trischka’s “Purchase Grover,” he has betrayed at least one of his major influences. It might even be possible to find a category for Butler’s music as an acoustic Flecktones sound, heavily reliant on bass and drums for rhythmic emphasis and giving bassist Geoff Henderson and drummer Justin Amaral plenty of solo space. But the banjo, fiddle, and guitar are all acoustic, even if fiddlers Derek Pell and Billy Contreras set off fireworks whenever they appear, especially given the latter’s reckless abandon.
The Nashville-based Butler also chooses to cover Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline Rag,” making this (along with the twisted but driving “Black Rabbit Getaway”) one of the more acoustic tracks on the album, complete with a whistling solo by Bill Davis. Despite the “techno Mayberry” vibe, this is contemporary banjo music, held together by Butler’s groove-oriented tunes and a proficiency on the five-string that allows him to synthesize his disparate influences and navigate a challenging set of music. Fans of adventurous instrumental newgrass will enjoy discovering a new banjo voice. (Charles Butler, 825 Spence Enclave Ln., Nashville, TN 37210, www.charlesbutler.net.)HK