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Album Review

Walt Koken was a prominent player in the old time music branch of the 1960s folk boom, and as a fiddle player with the Highwoods String Band in the early '70s, he did as much as anyone to preserve the tradition and feel of the old Appalachian tunes. But playing music that the mainstream doesn't even know exists is a difficult career choice, and Koken left music for carpentry as the 1970s wore on, making this album from Rounder Records somewhat of a comeback. This time, though, Koken is all about five-string banjo, and his modal clawhammer style on these spare and simple tracks is as natural and unassuming as a walk through the woods. "Banjonique" and "Banjo Blues," the two instrumentals that open the album, pretty much set the tone, and it's a bit like listening to your neighbor (who just happens to be a pretty good clawhammer banjo player) running through some old mountain melodies on his back porch as the sun begins to set. When Koken sings, as he does on the delightful old J.P. Nestor fiddle piece called "Train on the Island," his voice is all scratchy and a little eerie, which fits perfectly with what Koken is trying to do. His banjo version of Mississippi John Hurt's "Candyman" is another obvious highlight here, as is his take on the "Louie Louie" of fiddle tunes, "Cotton Eyed Joe." The problem with being a revivalist is always one of authenticity, but Koken is so natural and unassuming in his playing and singing that it hardly matters, and on Banjonique he deftly translates the music of a previous century into this one without so much as breaking a string.


Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '90s

Walt Koken was a leader in the old-time music revival of the 1960s. His clawhammer technique on the five-string banjo was well-documented until he quit recording in the early '70s. Rounder released...
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Banjonique, Walt Koken
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