Carolina Banjo Review in Bluegrass Today :)


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Carolina Banjo – Mary Z Cox

Mary Z Cox’s latest entry, Carolina Banjo, opens with the rousing strains of Foggy Mountain Clawhammer and never lets up in terms of its freewheeling finesse. 

The fact that Cox’s main instrument of choice is banjo, the otherwise alluring Got No Use for a Banjo Manseems to make a statement of sorts, one that easily interpreted as rallying for women in this age of empowerment. It refutes any notion that it has to be confined to any one particular gender. It also reflects the fact that Cox, a two-time Florida and North Carolina banjo champion who first picked up the banjo at age 12, has remained an exceptional artist for the past 20 years.

To her credit however, Cox seems more than willing to share the spotlight, and guest appearances by multi-instrumentalist Tim Gardner, Darren Nicholson on mandolin and guitar, and harmony singer Cindy Neal Carpenter add to both the flourish and frenzy of the album overall. She’s clearly dedicated to the task at hand, and her banjo playing, in combination with her deft dulcimer work, effectively bring this set of mostly traditional tunes to life.

Whether it’s the uptempo takes on Hangman’s ReelCottonand Black Eyed Susie/Forked Over, or the more more subdued sounds of Washington’s March (The Dream), Elk River Blues and Barlow Knife, she captures a spirit and sway that makes each entry as compelling as the next. Although the vocal offerings are few and far between — the aforementioned Got No Use for a Banjo Man, the equally determined Red Rocking Chair, and the readily familiar Same Old Man Living at the Mill, are the only songs that feature singing — the inclusion of notes about every track in the album’s inner sleeve, and the shared chord progressions for those prone to play along, finds enlightenment shared with entertainment. And given that there’s no shortage of enthusiasm in Cox and company’s execution, it makes each of these offerings all the more enticing. 

Ultimately, Cox ought to be credited with having created an album that succeeds on several levels and can’t be confined to any one era. Given her past trajectory, that ought to be expected.  Nevertheless, the fact that she succeeds so astutely makes this Carolina Banjo ring all the more emphatically.