There is a great deal of discussion of the rift between the progressive and traditional bluegrass scenes, yet a number of groups have taken great strides to tear down the barrier between the disciplines. Ned Luberecki is a perfect example of this dismantling, as he blurs the lines between traditional Americana bluegrass tunes and avante-garde interpretations of songs from outside the genre. Luberecki’s new album, Take Five, features a smorgasbord of banjo prowess reaching across the string-band spectrum, from fiddle-led waltzes to foot-stomping bluegrass and creative covers.
Of the 14 tracks on the album, not one is dull or repetitive. At the heart of Take Five is the symbiotic interplay between the banjo and fiddle, which seem to be holding a lively conversation back and forth on the best tracks. The vocal offerings on the non-instrumental tracks are wonderful, particularly Dale Ann Bradley’s (Five Time Female Bluegrass Vocalist of the Year) performance on Higher Ground. This track has a joyous, exultant chorus that punctuates the back-and-forth between the banjo and fiddle.
Cleveland Park is another highlight, taking a pause from the syncopated bluegrass breakdowns with it’s delightful waltzing fiddle. The track is subtly reminiscent of the tunes used to accompany English Country Dancing, and for a moment transports the listener from the Americana landscape that dominates the rest of the album.
Adams County Breakdown is a rollicking freight train from the other end of the spectrum, a triumph of the five-string banjo that cements Luberecki as a world-class musician. B Flat Medley is incredibly fun listening due to the playful tossing of leads between the fiddle and banjo. Fiddlin Dan is another upbeat example of syncopated picking and a playful fiddle lead, made all the more enjoyable by the lyrics, which employ American frontier imagery to spin an entertaining tall tale. At first, the cover of the Star Trek theme that ends the album seemed out of place, yet Luberecki has put a clever twist on this as well, making it altogether fun and listenable.
Fans of the five-string banjo and string-band music in general will be delighted by Take Five. Ned Luberecki has created a comprehensive portfolio of his dedication to the instrument, which is both technically impressive and musically compelling. Take Five is set to release on March 31st, 2017.