Banjo master Bill Evans’ new album, In Good Company, brings together a staggering cast of names in bluegrass and American roots music. Names like Tim O’Brien, Laurie Lewis, The Infamous Stringdusters, Joy Kills Sorrow, Darol Anger, Stuart Duncan, Mike Marshall, David Grier, Tristan and Tashina Clarridge, Rob Ickes, and more. A powerhouse guest list like this is a testament to Bill Evans’ tenure in the high-octane world of professional bluegrass for the past 35 years, and also to his influence as a teacher and mentor. Former students Chris Pandolfi (Infamous Stringdusters) and Wes Corbett (Joy Kills Sorrow) bring their bands to bear on the album (other prominent students of Bill’s include Greg Lizst of Crooked Still, Jayme Stone, and Hot Buttered Rum’s Erik Yates), and Bill’s book, Banjo for Dummies, is still the number one banjo tutorial in the world. In addition to mentoring a younger generation, Bill also looked deep into the wisdom of an older generation, studying himself with old-school bluegrass greats like Sonny Osborne and J.D. Crowe. Today, Bill’s seen by many as an ambassador of the banjo, and yet on his new album it’s clear that he gets the most joy from playing with friends (and family–his daughter Corey joins him on the last track). Driven by a love of bluegrass music that crosses generations and genre divisions, Bill Evans’ new album is a love letter to a life in music, all tinged with the firelight of his passion to bring the bluegrass banjo to new audiences.
Bill didn’t set out to make an album with all these friends, but after some wild fun in Berkeley, CA, recording with Anger, Grier, Marshall, and the Clarridges, he started thinking about the kind of album he could make if he invited over everyone with whom he loved playing music. With that, the project went from a modest endeavor to a full-blown extravaganza. The album opens up with “The Distance Between Two Points,” a raging alt-grass instrumental co-written by Bill and his percussionist daughter Corey. Bill’s playing has all the sincerity and authority that you’d expect from his dedication to the instrument. It’s a showcase of his thoughtful, subtle approach to this once-maligned instrument. The second track, “Walk on the Water,” is an all-hands-on-deck collaboration with much-respected pickers The Infamous Stringdusters. Other highlights include Tim O’Brien’s lovely duet with Laurie Lewis on “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” the blazing bluegrass adventure of “Big Chief Sonny,” the beautiful singing and masterful brinksmanship of Joy Kills Sorrow in “On and On,” a Sarah Siskind song, and of course the creatively joyful arrangement of favorite Beatles songs that helps to close out the album. A lifelong fan of the Beatles, Bill’s arrangements here remind us of just how timeless the Fab Four’s original melodies were.
Drifting between generations, the brand-new album from banjo master Bill Evans is a finely-tuned revelation. It’s both explosively virtuosic and also quietly thoughtful, a seeming paradox that actually explains Bill Evans’ playing perfectly.
Check out the lovely official video for "The Distance Between Two Points"
Bill Evans: Big Chief Sonny (feat. Ned Luberecki, David Grier, Stuart Duncan, Rob Ickes, Matt Flinner, & Missy Raines)
Bill Evans: Follow the Drinking Gourd (feat. Tim O'Brien and Laurie Lewis)
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