Mark Johnson & Emory Lester

Acoustic Rising – 2006 (Mountain Home)

Reviewed by Corinne Brown

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CDs by Mark Johnson & Emory Lester

Mark Johnson and Emery Lester combine mandolin, guitar and hammerclaw banjo in ways that surpass the expected. For bluegrass groupies, this is the " blue plate special," a collection of traditional music, folk, originals and those of Celtic writers, creating an eclectic offering that's all about musicianship and harmony. Johnson plays a Deering Custom "Ivanhoe" open-back, five string banjo, and if you've got to be converted, this is the way. Lester plays a Michael Heiden mandolin.

If any criticism can be levied, it might have to be Lester's stylized, but under whelming delivery of songs like "Ashfields and Brine." His voice is not his strongest suit. One listen to the original on Archie Fisher's own compelling CD, filled with nostalgia and deep Scottish angst, proves the difference. "Monroe's Hornpipe," a Bill Monroe instrumental, is extreme by comparison. "Cold Frosty Morning" has to be the consummate display of Johnson's aggressive style of banjo picking and Lester's skill on mandolin. Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" is yet another. Repeated listening reveal infinite complexities and achievements of the recording. For the traditional bluegrass listener, it's both a treat and relief, a step back in time. (Box 829, Arden, NC 28704)