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Gina Clowes

True Colors – 2017 (Mountain Home)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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CDs by Gina Clowes

Gina Clowes is a product of the mountain tradition, and her solo CD, "True Colors," allows her to plumb it with her own voicings. Clowes is an accomplished banjo player and has been a member of Chris Jones' touring band, the Nightdrivers, since the beginning of 2016. Despite her roots, there's more than mountain music going on here. In fact, gypsy tempo and phrasings are just a likely to emerge from Clowes' banjo (the opening cuts "Puppet Show" and "Saylor's Creek"). The title cut has a bit of a ragtime ramble feel to it. So, it's hard to categorize Clowes' style.

Her vocals are bright and pleasant, easily delivered. The title cut recalls the sweet-swinging sounds of The Andrews Sisters, rather than the Carter Family. But, after the genre-mixing first cuts of the CD, Clowes harkens back to lazy mountain days, bright mandolin meadows and bluegrass ("Looking For Sunshine"). Jack Dunlap's mandolin figures are especially complementary to Clowes' banjo. It stands to reason since they played together as part of Bud's Collective for many years before Clowes took up with The Nightdrivers.

Clowes has assembled her own top-notch backing band. Chris Luquette, who plays with Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen is solid on guitar throughout. (Mike Munford, also with Solivan's band was one of Clowes' banjo mentors, and she learned well). Luquette, Dunlap, Clowes and fiddler Maria Furtado tear it up with "Dust Can Wait," a sprightly instrumental. It's manifest that these folks love playing together.

With one notable exception, Clowes wrote all the material, and there's not a misstep in the bunch. Clowes also produced with admirable assists from sound engineers Will Shenk and Mark Stoffel. Clowes has a direct banjo style and straight-ahead singing to match it. And Clowes has enough confidence in her songs to allow Scott Bannon to take the lead vocals on a country song " Good Old Fashioned Heartbreak."

"The Wayward Kite," which appears midway in the set, a banjo-centric instrumental, evokes the title subject very nicely. It's a startling display of musicianship, enriched by Chris Sexton's cello work.

The only non-original, the Newley-Bricusse "Beautiful Land" (from the Broadway musical "The Roar of The Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd" ) appears an odd choice; it's short and ends the album. But, the song sounds as if it were written for Clowes' sweet voice and banjo counterpoints. Clowes is a confident and talented artist and "True Colors" shows her gifts well.