Richard Cifersky is a banjoist based in Slovakia. Formerly a member of the band Fragment, he’s toured both in Europe and the U.S. with Dale Ann Bradley, Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, and Gold Heart. On this, his third solo album, he follows the template that seems to have become the norm for contemporary banjoists. The album is divided roughly equally between original instrumental compositions and a number of cover songs featuring guest vocalists. The goal appears to be to show his proficiency as both a banjo frontman and as a supportive player for singers, and he succeeds quite well.
The core of his band here is The Chapmans, with the talented siblings covering mandolin, guitar, and bass, augmented primarily by Becky Buller on fiddle and Rob Ickes on resonator guitar. Buller and The Chapmans also handle the bulk of the lead vocals, with Jonathan Maness guesting on “Hope Sings,” a song with an arrangement that evokes classic Newgrass Revival. On banjo, Cifersky is a clean and versatile player, and his tunes display a kind of rhythmic angularity and adventurousness that should appeal to any open-minded listener. “War In My Mind” kicks off with a hint of phase-shifter, then settles into a groove that, while in 4/4 time, has a 3-3-2 pulse that evokes associations with Dave Brubeck’s 9/8 “Blue Rondo A La Turk.” “Top Of The Tree” lilts in 12/8 time, while “Night In The Tent” has a much more traditional bend, but still manages to be a pleasingly crooked tune in the old-time sense of the word.
While the songs come from different sources, including Buller, Louisa Branscomb, Mark Simos/Jon Weisberger, and Dutch singer Loes van Schaijk, they have a unifying theme of loss and redemption throughout. In a sense, Cifersky “sings” not just through his playing, but in his choice of songs that have meaning for him, as it should be. The overall effect is a CD that has a much broader and more mainstream appeal than one would normally expect from a banjoist’s solo project. (Velvet Music, Gorkeho 20, 902 01 Pezinok, The Slovak Republic, www.richardcifersky.com.)HK