Michael Miles Takes the Banjo to Unexpected Places





Just what you’ve all been waiting for: a solo banjo album. You scoff? Be gone, unbeliever. The subtitle of Michael Miles’s fifth release is “Timbres of Unlikely Juxtaposition,” and it doesn’t even begin to describe what’s in store on this recording. It’s just like every other banjo recording you’ve ever heard, assuming the ones you’ve heard have tracks arranged for the banjo to share aural space with trumpet, flugehorn, the vibes, Brazilian hand percussion, a string quartet, and vocals from the Sons of the Never Wrong! This CD is more Dave Brubeck Quartet than Blue Ridge Mountains and more Robert Johnson than “Rocky Top.” Miles, who teaches at Chicago’s Old School of Folk Music, is often compared to Bela Fleck, but even that parallel falls short. Know any other banjo players who have covered Bach’s “Gavotte en Rondeau” and “Sleepers Awake?” Remember “All That You Dream” by Little Feat? Miles covers that one too, as well as Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.” Okay—Eric Clapton has covered that classic, as has Alvin Lee, Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, Alex Van Halen, Trey Anastacio, and a host of other guitar heroes. But “Crossroads” on the banjo? Hell, yes! Miles also busts out four originals, and they too break the mold as each is played in conjunction with Chicago’s Chamber Blues String Quartet. When he finally slips in a mountain standard, “The Cuckoo,” you almost have to pinch yourself to realize that it’s on the same record as the rest. This album is a triumph of boldness, panache, and genius.

Check out his "New Century Suite."

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