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Swing Low, Sweet Mandolin

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Album Review

Kenneth Jethro Burns' reputation was built on the country comedy records he made with Homer Haynes over several decades as one-half of Homer & Jethro, though it was only after his partner's death that many fans began to comprehend how talented a mandolin player he was. Fortunately, David Grisman (a master mandolin player himself), like many fellow pickers, had long admired Burns' musicianship. He was delighted to learn that guitarist Don Stiernberg had recorded a series of intimate duo sessions with him in 1987 and 1988, prior to Burns' death from cancer in 1989, so he released an initial CD of some of this music on his Acoustic Disc label in 1995. Stiernberg, who set up the microphones and wrote some of the charts, sticks exclusively to rhythm guitar in order to feature Burns exclusively in the lead. The choice of songs reflects Burns' wide taste in great American music: standards ("Just Friends," "Body and Soul" and "Stella by Starlight"), country tunes ("You Win Again"), jazz compositions ("Solitude"), and even a spiritual ("Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"). In spite of his ill health, his musical sense of humor was still present, with a brief detour into the corny pop song "Mairzy Doats" in the middle of "Body and Soul." Though he must have been feeling the effects of his

fatal illness, Burns is in top form, managing to record eight to ten usable takes per session. The sound is exquisite and there is not one track that isn't delightful. Grisman later issued a second volume of music, Bye Bye Blues, from these same sessions in 1997, so one can only hope that additional tracks await release in the years to come.


Born: 10 March 1920 in Conasauga, TN

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

As the mandolinist in the classic country comedy duo Homer & Jethro, Kenneth Burns was one of the finest instrumentalists of his generation, yet many people never realized that fact. Behind the country hayseed garb, the hick patter, and the outrageous parodies of popular songs, "Jethro" Burns and guitarist Henry "Homer" Haynes were expert jazz musicians whose exaggerated hillbilly appearance and zany sendups of songs belied the cleverness of their comedy and the extraordinarily high quality of...
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Swing Low, Sweet Mandolin, Kenneth Jethro Burns
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