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Mark Johnson & Emory Lester

Blockade Runner – 2010 (Bangtown)

Reviewed by Greg Yost

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CDs by Mark Johnson & Emory Lester

Emory Lester and Mark Johnson are the bluegrass equivalent of peanut butter and jelly. They are both great on their own, but something special happens when they get together. Lester, a multi-instrumentalist known primarily for his work on mandolin and guitar, and Johnson, a banjo innovator and the creator of "Clawgrass" music that combines the clawhammer style of playing with traditional bluegrass technique, collaborate for the third time on a record full of quiet acoustic moments both beautiful and evocative.

Johnson and Lester's laid-back arrangements of the traditional standards Brown County Breakdown and Bright Sunny South bookend this 14-song collection and set a mellow tone for the rest.

Both artists are songwriters and combined, they are responsible for half of the tracks. Johnson composed six himself - all instrumentals - including the playful Kayla Anne and Hodgkiss Hill, a pretty and contemplative song that moves gently along like a country stream.

Lester and Johnson also impress on covers of two contemporary Americana songsmiths. The Old Time Drunkard, an old fashioned sounding tune from award-winning songwriter Sarah Pirkle, and My Sally from Last Train Home frontman Eric Brace manage to feel both old and new at the hands of these talented musicians.

Although press materials state that this album marks the completion of the artists' collaborative trilogy, the chemistry they share in the recording studio clearly warrants more of these releases in the future.