Tuesday, May 2, 2017

CS Review - Ned Luberecki / Take Five

imageThis CD, “TAKE FIVE” by Ned Luberecki, is an excursion into the magical world of the banjo that every fan, friend and enthusiast of the instrument, needs to buy a ticket for.

If, by chance, you haven’t heard tracks off this album already, get it in gear and find it. And, prepare to have your ears pinned back with the enthusiasm, dexterity, timing and power that Ned has so very eloquently recorded. Using his 1937 Gibson RB-7conversion banjo, as his instrument of choice, throughout the album, Ned takes control of his musical destiny and shows how deep his talents run.

My first introduction to Ned Luberecki, was through his bluegrass show, “Derailed”, on XM Radio. In listening, over the years, I have found that there is no separating the man from the banjo, or the irreverent sense of humor from the virtuoso musician. His personality looms large over his music, making him a bit eccentric, but a memorable and warm individual. A top notch Nashville musician that you’re amazed by, AND a loveable character, that you feel you’re already friends with.

One listen to this CD, and you can tell that Ned is a very multi-dimensional artist. I couldn’t help myself, I started with title Track #8, “Take Five.” With the backing of Missy Raines on bass, Ethan Ballinger on electric guitar, Casey Campbell on mandolin and Cody Martin on drums, they weave their way through this 5/4 time signature blast from the past and OWN IT. I love the harmony lines between Ned’s banjo and Ethan’s guitar, and the entire ensemble plays the rhythmic nuances of the piece with absolute assurance and confidence. He nailed it on this one!

“Girl From Ipanema,” by Antonio Carlos Jobim, follows next as track #9, using the same lineup as “Take Five.” Collectively known as Missy Raines and the New Hip, Ned couldn’t have found better, or more qualified musicians to find the groove on these two old standards. They took to these songs like a duck to water, old souls, with today’s swagger, strutting on tunes I remember from high school.

“Night Driver,” a Luberecki original, kicks off the CD, and this instrumental tune is 2:29 of “Look Out Here We Come!” With Chris Jones on guitar, Jon Weisberger on bass, Jeremy Garrett on fiddle, and Mark Stoffel on mandolin, the Night Drivers and Ned are back together again like they were for over 10 years. Having played as a unit for so long, it’s no wonder they sound so tight!

Mr. Luberecki is currently in the lineup of the Becky Buller Band, and a most talented lady he has teamed up with. As 2016’s IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year, AND Fiddle Player of the Year, Becky brings her vocals and fiddle to the proceedings, and shines. “Cleveland Park,” written by Ned and Becky, is a fiddle/banjo instrumental with a minor key ambiance that is a perfect vehicle for their shared talents and direction. “Fiddlin’ Dan,” is an old song in the public domain. Together they make it a new found jewel to be shared with their combined audiences and fans. Becky’s vocal has the requisite “old-timey” feel, and her fiddle playing is right on the money. Ned and Becky have impeccable timing together, and traditionalists will love this rendering. Those who are fans of old songs, will also love “Kitchen Squirrel Medley,” another instrumental that Becky and Ned have recorded for this project. Both these tunes will make you want to dance. In selecting the song order, Ned interspersed these three short songs in among the rest of the eclectic mix for maximum affect, and it’s great the way every song has its own place and time. The interest level never falters, and Ned keeps the listener glued to the speakers. The song order is just one more bit of well thought out professionalism, evident as you listen your way through this CD.

Another interesting side line of Ned’s is his association with Stephen Mougin. As lead guitarist for The Sam Bush Band and owner of Dark Shadow Recordings, Stephen is the other half of “Nedski and Mojo,” a touring and recording duo that is well represented here with a Buck Owens medley of “Before You Go,” and “Let The World Keep On Turning.” As a faithful and loyal fan of the late, great Buck Owens, it put a smile on my face to hear these two go on a Bakersfield bounce!!! Their harmony vocals are heartfelt, if not always on the mark intonation wise. However, to their credit, they did their homework, and that slightly off-key, strain for the note sound that Don Rich sang behind Buck, is present and fits this medley perfectly. They have a CD out on Dark Shadows, simply called “Nedski and Mojo, Nothing More”. This is a release, I need to track down and give a listen to. With the instrumental strength that these two gentlemen have, their song writing abilities, and their own style of vocals, it’s bound to be entertaining.

“Higher Ground,” the second track delivered here, was written by Kelley Luberecki, Ned’s wife, and Dale Ann Bradley. This is the first collaboration for the ladies, and Ned informed me that with Kelley being from West Virginia and Dale Ann from East Kentucky, a song about being away from their mountain homes came pretty easy. This is an up tempo tune that has Dale Ann singing lead vocals, Becky Buller on harmony vocals, (TWO, count ‘em…TWO IBMA Female Vocalists of the Year on the same song!!) and Chris Jones and the Night Drivers backing the ladies up on the instrumental tracks. The song has that radio friendly bluegrass drive, and the players all kicked in 125% to the proceedings. This tune has HIT record all over it, so another song-writing session needs to be scheduled for Kelley and Dale Ann.

Ned really went to the right people when he asked Missy Raines and the New Hip to play on this CD. They make their presence known, AGAIN, on two more songs, and have quite an impact on, “Earl’s Court,” an original of Ned’s, written in 5/4 time, about a neighborhood in London where he stays when in the UK, and “Blue Monk,” by Thelonius Monk. Ned’s banjo sets each piece aflame with the melody line, the time signatures and his expertise quite nicely, and when he solos, later on, in both songs, his right hand rolls are pushing the boundaries of the impossible. His timing and control are phenomenal. And what more can you say about his left hand stretching two strings at once and throwing pull-offs in the most unusual of places. I’m no expert, soooo…..if what my ears are telling me is true, how DOES he do that?  AND…. when he’s through with his solo or intro, Ned falls right into place punching the rhythm behind the next soloist, as they take off and soar. He’s a very generous band leader, taking control of the wheel, but making sure his peers get to shine, too.

Ethan Ballinger’s electric and acoustic guitar solos are pivotal for making all four of the songs he plays on come to life. Is he the re-incarnation of some Los Angeles or New York jazz guitarist from the 1960’s? He sure comes up with some outrageously “cool” hot licks that make him a standout.

Casey Campbell, on mandolin, has no problem whatsoever finding the groove and playing notes and runs above and around the melody line with speed, power and zeal. When Casey is chunking the back-beat, it feels rock solid.

Missy Raines takes a solo on “Blue Monk” that she shares with drummer Cody Martin, and the jazz influences on both players oozes onto their recorded tracks. Missy’s bass also sounds GREAT!

Noted Nashville producer/engineer, Ben Surratt made sure that ALL the instruments and vocals were recorded with the greatest of care and concern. This was another noteworthy decision by Ned to bring in the best people possible in every instance. Mr. Surratt has a reputation as one of THE go-to production people in Nashville, and if you look closely at liner notes on some of the most prominent artist’s releases in bluegrass and acoustic music, you’ll find his name over and over again.

Two more instrumentals, and a fun tune featuring Amanda Smith, are present here with another set of players that need to be mentioned. “Adams County Breakdown,” by Tom Adams, and “B-Flat Medley,” which is the result of combining “New Camptown Races,” with “Done Gone.” With Ned putting lots of sizzle in his playing, he is backed by Shad Cobb on fiddle, Mike Compton on mandolin, David Grier on guitar and Missy Raines on upright bass. With a little side research, I found that these four players are referred to as “Helen Highwater,” a local Nashville “HOT” band of distinction. Rob Ickes also throws in some of his world famous Dobro on the Tom Adams’ tune.

Jon Weisberger, a noted and often covered Nashville bluegrass tunesmith and bassist for The Night Drivers, adds one of his tunes called “We’ll Put Out The Fire.” Jon co-wrote this bouncy jig with Vida Wakeman, an up and coming Nashville singer/song-writer from the duo “Jeff and Vida.” The third IBMA Female Vocalist of the year to be showcased here, Amanda Smith, handles the lead vocals.

“Where No Man Has Gone Before,” or….. as most of us will know it, the “Star Trek Theme,” is Ned’s last musical romp of the CD. Ned uses his “Radio” voice to introduce the theme, and with the help of Jeremy Garrett on fiddle, Ned blasts off for the great beyond in a blaze of glory! What a hoot, and what a dynamic way to end this journey. This recording project and musical flight of fancy has been one of the most exhilarating trips I’ve taken in a long while, and that covers a lot of ground. Ned has brought together a whole handful of the best bluegrass and acoustic musicians he could find, turned them loose on a set of top notch songs of today, and yesterday, and lit them all on fire with his banjo prowess. With his musicianship, his business acumen, his fore sight, his sense of humor, and a goal of doing it the best way he knows how, Ned Luberecki has hit a homer. Go get “Take Five” and enjoy……. I’ll bet you’ll love it, too.


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