rethinking the banjo

Jazz with Bluegrass and Blues (Padraig)
Tim Lake

An American Concerto for 5-String Banjo and Orchestra (Padraig)

Tim Lake

Only in the Movies (Padraig)

Tim Lake

By John Goodin

Tim Lake is fighting an uphill battle. He's a virtuoso of the banjo and is driven to play his chosen instrument in a variety of styles, "banjo" and "variety" not being words that often appear in the same sentence. Lake is on a crusade to "examine the relationship of the 5-string banjo to ALL genres of music," according to the artist.

Jazz with Bluegrass and Blues, Lake's most recent release, attempts to dispel the notion of the banjo as a much too lighthearted instrument for serious song accompaniment. All the songs are written by Lake and most feature his pleasant Lyle Lovett-sounding voice. Backed by guitar, bass and fiddle, he delivers a fine set of songs mixing genres with ease. His lyrics are especially good, conveying social justice and ecological concerns. These are songs from the heart, not obsessed with fitting through the narrow funnel that leads to mainstream radio play. He takes on Big Themes like in "A Great Country" and points his finger convincingly in "A Big Fat Blowhard Like You." There are a few high notes that don't quite make it, but overall this is an excellent collection of songs played on the banjo, and a clear success for Lake.

The serious banjo lovers among you will almost certainly be interested in Lake's earlier recordings including his ambitious An American Concerto for 5-String Banjo and Orchestra and Only in the Movies. These mostly instrumental collections effectively showcase Lake as both composer and banjoist performing in a variety (that word again) of classical and jazz styles. The concerto is especially interesting, featuring both some memorable tunes and good arranging for this uncommon combination. This is good stuff, Kentucky-made, and deserves your attention.