Brennen Ernst is a multi-instrumental multi-genre musical daredevil. In this project he focuses on some of his favorite banjo pieces.
Contributing to the hot licks and mellow moments are members of the popular band Five Mile Mountain Road—Billy Hurt on fiddle and Steven Dowdy on bass—along with Jeremy Stephens playing solid rhythm guitar throughout. Add to the mix such recognized talents as fiddlers Casey Driscoll and Corrina Rose Logston, Danny Knicely on mandolin and guitar, Chris Hill on vocals, and you know you’re in for a great listen.
The title number, Had a Big Time Today, brings back the good old days when girls wore bonnets and came to town on the steamboat, followed by a neatly joined showcase of classic banjo tunes called Old Time Song Medley. Back Home in Indiana is a cheerful offering from the Great American Songbook; the stunning Golden Rocket has tongue-twisting lyrics brilliantly handled by Stephens and Logston; Greasy Wagon is an evocative, loping waltz from the 1920s; Ashland Breakdown by “father of bluegrass” Bill Monroe highlights some fine triple fiddling, while The Old Home will take you to that place where “the sweet waters flow and the wild flowers grow.” Banjo standard Lonesome Road Blues is next; then the powerful voice of Hurt and a hot Travis-style guitar break from Stephens combine on the honkytonk entry Walking the Dog. Ernst takes up lead guitar in a Flat-Picking Medley paying tribute to his heroes Clark Kessinger and Doc Watson. Back on banjo, he offers a crisp, lightning-fast rendition of the old time classic Shortnin’ Bread. For a contrast in mood, Hill and Ernst join in singing Wall Around Your Heart, a musical reminder from Reno and Smiley that love stories don’t always have a happy ending. Buckeye, a composition by legendary Georgia fiddler Frank Maloy, showcases Ernst at his banjo best along with fluent fiddling from Hurt, Logston and Driscoll. This stellar collection finishes off with Mac Wiseman’s I’m a Stranger—it starts with Kniceley’s hard-core mandolin kick and moves on to plaintive lyrics led by Stephens with Ernst on tenor and Tom Mindte on baritone, adding a final, true touch of lonesome.
A word of advice: If you plan to take this music on your morning stroll, better tape in your earbuds and be prepared to do some foot-tappin’, foot-stompin’ and flat-footin’ – just sayin’.
Barbara Bamberger Scott