Tony Trischka is no ordinary banjo player plying his plunk. One of the most creative and influential banjoists of the past 40 years, Trischka has inspired generations of musicians, including the legendary Bela Fleck who, as a teenager, was one of Trischka’s pupils.
Though grounded in bluegrass, Trischka steps beyond boundaries to map whatever musical territory he finds worth exploring. And “Great Big World,” Trischka’s 17th solo album, reflects the scope of his vision. Backed by a stellar cast of pickers and singers, Trischka ranges widely from classics, such as Stephen Foster’s “Angelina Baker,” Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi,” and Johnny Bond’s “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight,” through an eclectic passel of original songs and instrumentals.
Like his playing, his compositions are less standard than adventuresome. They extend from “Say Goodbye (for KM),” a tribute to the late Kate McGarrigle, to the whimsical “Single String Medley,” a five-part romp through each of the banjo’s five strings, the peaceful strains of “Ocracoke Lullabye,” and the up-and-down playfulness of “Swag Bag Rag” that closes.
While the late Earl Scruggs brought the banjo into popular discourse, Trischka has advanced its possibilities beyond bluegrass into an instrument whose full potential is yet to be achieved. Entertaining as it is enlightening, Tony Trischka’s “Great Big World” points the way.
Correspondent Jack Bernhardt