Wednesday, June 13, 2012

CD REVIEW - Bill Evans - In Good Company

By W.J. Hallock

Bill Evans  - In Good Company

Record Label: Native and Fine Records
Released: May 2012

      One quick first listen to this CD was all I was going to have time for….. three hours later I was still at it!   Time flies when you’re havin’ FUN!  Several things became obvious right away. #1. Bill Evans is one of the finest banjo players I’ve ever heard. #2. Bill Evans is every bit as good a song-writer as he is an instrumentalist. #3. Bill must be incredibly intelligent, because he totally understands that by bringing in the hottest musicians to record with, he not only pushes himself to play better, he brings out the very best in the rest of the team. And with twenty six players, what a team it is!

      Bill and The Infamous Stringdusters do the 1971 gem by the late John Martyn, “Walk To The Water.” Bill joins Joy Kills Sorrow to do Sarah Siskind’s “On And On.” And the great vocals of Tim O’Brien and Laurie Lewis harmonize on the Bill and Tim arrangement of the old traditional song “Follow The Drinking Gourd.” All three of these songs are invigorating, interesting, exciting and a pure delight to hear. And they are the only three songs on In Good Company that have vocals on them! It took me a while to realize why I wasn’t missing vocals on the other nine songs….. Bill’s banjo, coupled with his playing technique’s, has a very unique “voice” all it’s own. Smooth, soft and soothing….. smokey and sensual….. feisty and furious. It’s all there when Bill’s banjo “SINGS!”

      Bill wrote a total of five instrumentals for this CD, and they are as different and varied as the many shades you’ll find on a color wheel. “Big Chief Sonny” is a rollicking, good time almost Dixieland piece. “Dakota,” is a barn burner and sizzles in it’s speed and intricacy. “The Distance Between Two Points,” and its accompanying, just released video, is a free form excursion that builds in tempo and intensity. As the first song, it is a perfect opener. Its sets a tone of mystery that draws the listener in immediately. “Some Other Creek,” is…… WOW! My personal favorite is “They Say You’re Never Lonely in Louisville.” Accompanied only by Corey Evans on drums and Cindy Browne Rosefield on bass, Bill plays a slow, sultry jazz feel that is both intimate and enticing. Oscar Peterson has nothing on Bill’s banjo here…… As the last song of the CD, it’s a very gentle way for Bill to say “thank you and good night.” 

      Bill does four songs by The Beatles, and having grown up on the Fab Four (and having heard at least a thousand not so glorious versions of each one) I wasn’t expecting what Mr. Evans delivered. Those Lennon and McCartney melodies took on a whole new, refreshing and warm feel! I couldn’t help myself, I was singing along with each one and then playing them again as I remembered more forgotten lyrics! It’s a gutsy move to take an established song and even attempt to take it someplace new. Its pure artistry and vision if you can do it and succeed! Congratulations Mr. Evans. 

      At this point it dawned on me that Mr. Evans has two more qualities that are very obvious. Graciousness and an unselfish demeanor. On “Mother Nature’s Son,” he doesn’t even play! He turns the reins over to his team and lets THEM shine. How cool….. And on three other songs, Bill is joined by a second banjo player, and joyously makes room for everyone.

      The title of this CD, “In Good Company,” sums up the gentle vibe that seems to flow so easily out of each song. To name each of the cast members and how each impressed me would take hours. From the famous and well known to the not so well known, its safe to say they wouldn’t be here if Bill Evans wasn’t a fan of their playing and knew they would shine on this project. But, on a personal note, I was totally knocked out by the talents of Mike Marshall on mandolin and David Grier on guitar. 

      The team that Bill put together also included his co-producers, Stephen Mougin, Darol Anger and Tom Size. And, although recorded at five different studios, the team made sure the quality and feel of this CD was first rate and top shelf all the way through, from start to finish. AND… if there was a Grammy Award for best liner notes, this one would win, hands down! All folded up and tucked into a pocket is an 18 inch by 14 inch  double sided poster with pictures on one side and all the info on each song printed out in lettering big enough even I could  see it without my bifocals. Thank You Mr. Evans!

      Yep……. You need to have this CD in YOUR collection, and you may as well go ahead and get two of ‘em, because it won’t take long ‘til you have the first one worn out.


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