One Ring To Rule Them All

Team Flathead: The Huber Banjo Sessions (Independent)
Steve Huber, Sammy Shelor, John Lawless, Ron Stewart and Jim Mills

By Bob Mitchell

Huber's project was originally intended to be a marketing tool for his line of banjos, but it evolved into one of the finest instrumental potpourris of tone and technique I've had the pleasure of hearing. It is a spectacular showcase for five outstanding banjo players and a stellar back-up group.

At the heart of the Huber banjo is his flathead tone ring, "an exact metallurgical replica of the rings used in the classic pre-war flathead banjo that defined the bluegrass banjo." Huber is featured on the opening track, a fast moving "Cherokee Shuffle;" "Evening Prayer Blues," with a solid blues groove; and an up-tempo closer, "Careless Love." But, after listening to the entire project, I am convinced that his banjos do indeed have the "one ring to rule them all" (which rings true if you're a "Lord of the Rings" fan).

Stewart displays his talent on "Red River Valley" and "Sourwood Mountain" which features excellent guitar work from Kenny Smith and mandolin work from Alan Bibey. Multi talented Stewart also plays fiddle on this project and his bow work is consistently impressive. Shelor's contributions are an exciting "Over In The Gloryland," "Mississippi Sawyer" (a high stepping duet for fiddle and banjo) and a fast paced "Red Rooster."

Flawless Lawless tracks include "Seeing Nellie Home" with an interesting mix of tempos and "Cluck Old Hen." Once again Smith's guitar, Stewart's fiddle and Bibey's mandolin are impeccable. The ever-incredible Mills delivers a first rate "Reuben." Mills also teams up with Stewart for a blistering "Cotton Eyed Joe" featuring exemplary unison fiddle and banjo.

One of my favorites is the no holds barred arrangement of "Bugle Call Rag," spotlighting the banjos of Huber, Shelor and Stewart. Bibey and Smith continue to deliver impressive rhythm and lead work. Andy Todd provides a solid bass line throughout this recording but I especially enjoyed his energy in "Cottoned Eyed Joe."

On a five-point scale of excellence, this CD is a five-plus. If you like bluegrass instrumentals, Team Flathead belongs in your collection.