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Steven Moore: Just a Little Talk with Myself
(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/25/2023)
For those of us long-time fans of a certain age, it’s hard to believe that it has been forty years since a bunch of then young musicians who grew up on rock and jazz, applied those influences along with considerable instrumental virtuosity to the context of bluegrass. And thus was born the New Acoustic movement, through the likes of David Grisman, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, the late Tony Rice, and later on Bela Fleck. At first, many of the traditionalists scorned it as being a violation of the bluegrass style. But by now, those eclectic influences are pretty much baked into bluegrass, and it’s the majority of the bands on the scene who are showing the wider range of styles that the pioneers started in the early 1980s. Since then, a couple of generations of notable musicians in the field have emerged, such as Chris Thile, Alison Krauss, the Punch Brothers, and Billy Strings. This week we have the debut album by an Ohio-based banjo player who amply demonstrates his musical eclecticism and “chops” on his instrument as they say. It’s Steven Moore, whose album is called Just a Little Talk With Myself.
A West Virginia native, Steven Moore has been playing since his teens, and has racked up a number of honors on the bluegrass banjo contest circuit, including the National Bluegrass Banjo Championship in 2008 and 2015, RockyGrass, FreshGrass, RenoFest, and Carolina in the Fall festivals. He had a band called Almost Famous, but currently tours with David Mayfield, as part of the David Mayfield Parade.
For his solo album, Moore enlisted a fellow banjo player, and frequent Nashville studio musician Scott Vestal as producer, and put together a group which includes fiddle luminary Stuart Duncan, another first-call musician in Nashville, and who was part both of the Goat Rodeo Project albums with Chris Thile and Yo-Yo Ma. On guitar is Cody Kilby from the Travelin’ McCoury’s, bassist Bryan House, another Nashville studio stalwart; and mandolinist James Saliga. There are joined by a few guest artists, including John Cowan who was part of the pioneering group New Grass Revival, and Chris Sexton who created string arrangement and performed them all himself by way of overdubbing. The material is mostly original and mostly instrumental. It ranges from melodic tunes in the New Acoustic style to all out bluegrass barn-burners, from pieces with a banjo paired with a small string ensemble, to an electric cover of a tune by the rocker Slash. Moore proves himself to be impressive on the five-string, playing in the three-finger style made famous by Earl Scruggs. One of his stylistic trademarks is his deft use of string harmonics on the banjo.
Opening the generous 66 minute, 14-track album is a piece called A New Leaf a melodic original composition that gives the group members opportunities for solos, especially fiddler Stuart Duncan. <<>>
The title track Just a Little Talk with Myself consists of a tune by Steven Moore and lyrics and lead vocals by David Mayfield, in whose band Moore tours and plays. It’s a nice introspective piece both musically and lyrically. <<>>
There are two tracks that feature Moore’s banjo accompanied by a small string ensemble all played by Chris Sexton. The first of them is Goodbye Love, inspired by a parting from one’s loved one, however short or long. It comes off really nicely. <<>>
A track called O’Connell Street brings in come Celtic influence, in the form of a jig, with Moore playing pennywhistle. However, it still sounds more like bluegrass than a traditional Celtic group, not being quite as lively or syncopated. <<>>;
Moore pays tribute to his home state of West Virginia by covering John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads with a vocal by Elliott Park. In his CD booklet notes, Moore writes how West Virginia has suffered from the opioid crisis. Park’s subdued vocal imparts a melancholy mood to the arrangement of the song. <<>>
One of the more interesting of the instrumentals is Moore’s arrangement of the traditional classic When Johnny Comes Marching Home which can also sound a little Celtic in style at its outset <<>> before breaking into classic bluegrass. <<>>
Another of the traditional tunes is Shady Grove, on which Moore says in his notes, he was experimenting with alternative banjo tunings. He also wrote an original second section to the tune. <<>>
About the biggest departure on the album is the cover of Bent to Fly by the heavy metal guitarist Slash. John Cowan, who was part of New Grass Revival, but has lately been singing with the Doobie Brothers, does the lead vocal, while Moore plugs in his banjo, and there are drums on the track. <<>>
Banjo man Steven Moore’s new debut solo album Just a Little Talk with Myself is a most satisfying collection of tastefully performed bluegrass and new acoustic music. The material is fairly wide-ranging, but the band handles it well. After all, a couple of the guys joining him are some of the most versatile Nashville studio musicians around. And although the cover tunes on the album are among the more interesting tracks, Moore’s own material makes up most of the album, and almost all of it is first rate.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A” with the acoustic instruments sounding warm and natural, and a mix in which everyone is heard well.
Steven Moore had not been born when the New Acoustic scene started in the 1980s, but he has served up an impressive mostly instrumental recording that spans the genre and still delivers some straight-out bluegrass with class.
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