Album Review of

Written by Joe Ross
March 16, 2015 - 12:00am EDT
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Five-string bluegrass banjo is not an easy instrument to play. It requires plenty of intense right hand drive with various fingerpicked rolls, while the left hand uses such techniques as pull-offs, hammer-ons, and string bends to embellish melodies. The innovative Todd Taylor has it all down! Incorporating Scruggs, melodic, and single string styles, his repertoire pays tribute to Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, John McEuen and even Elton John. Pretty diverse influences, but not as far-reaching as on previous projects. Taylor penned two impressive originals, "3-FIVE-N" and "Bayou Bottle Blues," and he arranged a few others like the frenetic crowd-pleaser "Orange Blossom Special." One can see why Todd's been nominated for a number of Grammies. John McEuen once told me that he wants to take the banjo into new, uncharted territory, and Taylor demonstrates his comfort with John's "Miner's Night Out." A barn-burning rendition of "El Cumbanchero" also appeared previously on his "Taylor Made" album. Not sure why he includes it here again. "Prairie Song" and "Little Bessie" feature Steve Thorpe's languorous vocals. 

All songs on the 36-minute CD: 1. 3-Five-N, 2. Little Bessie, 3. Rueben, 4. Bayou Bottle Blues, 5, Miners' Night Out, 6, El Cumbachero, 7. Rocket Man, 8. Prairie Song , 9. The Ballad of Osceola, 10. Gold Rush, 11. Orange Blossom Special

On stage since age 6, Taylor and his twin brother (Allen) performed as the "Taylor Twins" with the likes of Bill Monroe, Carl Story, Roy Acuff and others. When Todd's five-string starts smoking, look beyond just the breakneck licks. He manages to find some stylistic footing by establishing a groove and expanding into non-bluegrass genres (Latin, new acoustic, and rock). While every banjo-player worth his salt cuts his teeth on fare like Reuben, Todd's spunk makes it his own. That's why Taylor's best material is built around his two originals or his renderings of "El Cumbanchero" or "Rocket Man." 

The band on "3-FIVE-N" comes off with even more instrumental proficiency and a better rehearsed sound than on his "Taylor Made" album. Primary accompanists include Bo Frazier (fiddle), Lamont Goff (mandolin), Robert Feathers (guitar), and Mike Moody (bass). Nathan Thorpe, Steve Thorpe, and Chuck Embry III appear to a minimal degree. Todd shows us that he's a very daring young man with a lot of skill, confidence, and vitality. On first listen, what may sound to an undiscerning ear as rather frantic and frenzied picking is really occurring in a very controlled bluegrass environment. Dare I say it but on his next album I'd like to hear him slow down and offer a small percentage of very evocative mood pieces - a whole ‘nuther and calmer side of the banjer! "3-FIVE-N" can be purchased at (Joe Ross)