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Jeremy Stephens

Scarlet Banjo – 2001 (Rebel)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Jeremy Stephens

If you dig hard enough, you'll find that there's no shortage of banjo instrumental albums around, they've been piling up for almost 50 years now, and the truth of the matter is that, no matter what the style bluegrass, clawhammer, Irish, whatever it can be real hard to tell one from another. Same tunes, same tempo, same stylings, same licks. Dedicated bluegrass fans can tell within a few bars whether it's Scruggs, Reno, Crowe, or any other of a number, but for most of us, one banjo player sounds pretty much like another.

Jeremy Stephens manages to sidestep this problem and distinguish himself here on a number of counts. For one, it's not purely a banjo album. Three of the 14 cuts feature Stephens playing fingerstyle guitar inspired by the classic early country music of Troy Brammer (one-time sideman of Wade Mainer, who appears here with Stephens) and Roy Harvey, whose work with Charlie Poole has been revered for more than 70 years. It's also not strictly a bluegrass banjo album, Stephens plays a nice clawhammer on a number of cuts. An additional polish is added by the presence, in addition to Brammer, of a superb backup cast that includes Ron Stewart, Andy Martin, Darren Moore and Kirk Sutphin.