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Red Room – Gordon Stone Band


No offense to Gordon Stone and his cohorts – Russ Lawton and Rudy Dauth – but the moment I begin to hear the strains of banjo in a non-bluegrass
outfit, my frame of reference immediately turns to that Bela guy. It's hard
not to do that. As Stone proceeds with his complex yet breezy picking style
and Lawton and Dauth ably frame it with drums, rhythm guitar and bass, the
similarities jump out at me.

But, in the end, it signals as much about the rarity of those pursuing
jazz forms on the banjo as it does writing styles and arrangements.

As for "Red Room," the latest by GSB, the threesome or, as they'd like to be called, Band, create a comfortably amiable atmosphere that makes stops among the jazz and bluegrass worlds and even a nod or two elsewhere with little self-consciousness of their contemporaries or the music surrounding them.

The opening number, Close Enough and Half Creek offer the type
banjo-led material one expects. Still, there's some underlying charisma that
approaches me, as if those happy happy notes picked on the banjo refuse to
let me ignore them. Suddenly, a smile starts to appear on my face and my
right leg starts bouncing up and down to the cheerful rhythm. Stone
solos at this point, and then returns to what caught my fancy in the first
place; a simple but effective strategy.

The Band's not-so-secret weapons are the intertwining of notes and personalities between Stone, Lawton and Dauth. What's not so noticeable until you're listening to the album is the importance of Stone moving on to steel guitar, especially flavorful on Yesterday’s Coffee, or Lawton and Dauth singing on several numbers. The changes provided by the instrumentation and vocals add more colors to the overall proceedings.

After three instrumentals, Light comes in at track four. It probably
surprises the most when it pops up as the first of several vocal numbes.
Quick to Judge contains a nice idea of living in harmony but its bumper
sticker lyricism may give the song its hook but it also relegates it to
status. Cahboss returns the banjo front-and-center in the approach
that began
the album. But the backing accompaniment is what brings it to a new and
different, a sort of Nashville-meets-the Mojave Desert atmosphere.

For those who may not own the Phish tribute album, "Sharin' in the Groove," GSB includes its version of Runaway Jim. In a surprising twist on the song, the members actually turn the original's frenetic pace down. I'm divided over that decision. My mind wandered to the "Newport Folk Festival: Best of Bluegrass 1959-66" set I reviewed last August and wished that, like some of those tunes, this could have worked itself up to Indy 500 speeds. But let's face it, that's nowhere near the style of GSB, so instead, I sat back, took it in and enjoyed the slower, more precise vibe.

What's most important here, as with all of "Red Room," is that the song
works within the context of the numbers that precede it and the ones that
follow. And that's the best thing that I can say about Gordon Stone Band's
fourth album.

The title track follows and offers the album's most expansive work. All
three find room to travel on their individual instrument while not losing
sight of the song's peppy little theme. Hammock Time follows and
closes the
disc. The feel it evokes is exactly like its title — all sunshine, sandy
beach and cresting waves. It's the type of thing that Jimmy Buffett should
borrow as soon as possible.

From end to end the members create a flow that, despite, the limitations
inherent in a banjo-led outfit, keep matters consistently fresh.

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