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Kristin Scott Benson

Stringworks – 2016 (Mountain Home)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by Kristin Scott Benson

Four-time IBMA Banjo Player of the Year Kristin Scott Benson's "Stringworks" is a beautifully balanced bluegrass album alternating between instrumentals and songs.

Claire Lynch breathlessly interprets Cheryl Wheeler's modern folk classic "When Fall Comes to New England" and Scott Benson's pals from The Grascals - Terry Eldredge and John Bryan - help out on one of the most engaging tracks, "Foggy Mountain Top." This track is spectacular not only for their excellent singing and the players' contributions, but for the manner in which a recording from the 1940s featuring Whitey & Hogan (a duet including Scott Benson's grandfather) is amalgamated with the contemporary recording: a connection across generations.

Elsewhere, old friends Mickey Harris ("Sink or Swim") and Chris Jones ("All I Want is You") take the lead, with Jones' contributions especially appreciated by this weary heart. "You Gotta Climb Over the Cross," sung by Shawn Lane with Bryan and Eldredge, provides a gospel infusion.

With six instrumental slots available, Scott Benson, also a member of The Grascals, is judicious: no filler here. "Great Waterton" is an assertive number that sets the album on a positive course. A dynamic Bill Emerson tune, "Locust Grove," serves as a nice mandolin showcase for Wayne Benson. "Travelers Rest" is a gentler banjo exploration co-written with Cody Kilby, while "Eagle Eye Annie" hits the mark in a lively manner with the Benson spouses doing some friendly dueling.

Scott Benson adds her personality to a stunning interpretation of Earl Scruggs' "Farewell Blues," kicking it up sonically while maintaining the integrity of the tune and encouraging her band to shine individually and collectively.

Benson (mandolin) and Jim VanCleve (fiddle) are prominently featured, as they were on previous Scott Benson's albums. Kilby plays all the guitar parts, and Tim Surrett handles the bass with Adam Haynes playing fiddle on half the tracks.

Kristin Scott Benson has chosen to go the half-and-half route with "Stringworks," half songs, half banjo tunes. You have the picking and noodling for those looking to emulate and deconstruct, and you have songs to keep everyone coming back.

"Stringworks" is a superbly executed release revealing the continued growth of one of bluegrass music's most respected banjoists and personalities.