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A Robot Plane Flies Over Arkansas

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Album Review

It is funny to listen to Robot Plane Flies Over Arkansas and look back on the reviews that ran in conservative publications such as Old Time Music at the time the album came out. From the comments at the time, one would think this was a recording of the bombing of Dresden or instruments being smashed along the I-40. And 30 years later, the solo banjo piece "Avondale," short as it is, would no doubt start a fistfight were it to be played backstage at a banjo-picking contest. This is one of the most famous albums of what came to be known as progressive bluegrass, and while it is in the nature of many musicians to be progressive in their thinking, they sometimes find themselves caught in styles of music that don't encourage such an attitude. This is the situation Trischka found himself in when he and his cohorts started stretching many of the ideas of what might be appropriate to play in a combo whose instrumentation had been handed down from traditional bluegrass bands (i.e., mandolin, banjo, acoustic guitar, and so forth). Many of the sort of chord progressions and arrangements heard here have been copied shamelessly ad nauseum ever since, sometimes by second-rate hacks and sometimes by the participants themselves. There is an exciting dimension to hearing these ideas being presented for what is often nearly the first time, and anyone familiar with bluegrass and its conventions can feel twinges of panic at some of the choices of notes, similar to how a frightened camper reacts to each successive weird noise from the forest. And many later recordings of this type of music don't quite strike such a perfect balance of the best aspects of the related musics of bebop and bluegrass. One thing is for sure: This is one of the finest recordings of acoustic instruments ever made, and the consistency is amazing considering that the tracks originate from several different sessions on both the East and West Coasts. Pickers heard here at their absolute best include Andy Statman, Matt Glaser, Darol Anger, David Grisman, Tony Rice, and Barry Mitterhoff.


Born: 16 January 1949 in Syracuse, NY

Genre: Country

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

The avant-garde banjo stylings of Tony Trischka inspired a whole generation of progressive bluegrass musicians; he was not only considered among the very best pickers, he was also one of the instrument's top teachers, and created numerous instructional books, teaching video tapes, and cassettes. A native of Syracuse, New York, Trischka's interest in banjo was sparked by the Kingston Trio's "Charlie and the MTA" in 1963. Two years later, he joined the Down City Ramblers, where he remained through...
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A Robot Plane Flies Over Arkansas, Tony Trischka
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