Saturday, October 26, 2013

The O's - Thunderdog

I agree with Willie Nelson, "You can't play a sad song on the banjo." 

There is probably no more iconic American instrument, even though it was probably brought to the United States from Africa by African-American slaves.  If Wikipedia is to be believed in the 1830's minstrel performer Joel Walker Sweeney put the banjo in the basic form we have today and was the first caucasian to play the instrument on stage.  It has a sound usually associated with bluegrass, country and folk music from south of the Mason-Dixon line, probably based on its African slave heritage.  However, today, English bands, such as Mumford & Sons, have re-popularized the banjo in commercial folk pop music.

The Dallas, Texas duo of Taylor Young (guitar and kick drum) and John Pedigo (banjo), known collectively as "The O's," bring the banjo folk pop music sound back to its roots in Dixie with their third studio album titled Thunderdog.  It is country folk pop that gives Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers a run for their money.  The tunes are undeniably catchy and the lyrics have more meaning and thought behind them than you find in an average pop song - especially pop songs with a banjo.  No dogs dying or crying in your beer here.   I especially like "Outlaw." It is a piece I put on repeat and that I expect will reach a wide cross-over audience.  Their music is not all straight ahead banjo driven pop.  For example, the album ends with the track "Kitty." The electric instrument sound is not a guitar.  It is Pedigo playing his banjo through a fuzz pedal.

The album name, Thunderdog, originates from the moniker the boys give Young's kick drum, but, it has ended up, like The O's songs, with a deeper meaning.   For them it means, "achieving [their] own success, on [their] terms, at [their] own pace."  It is, in a way, a celebration of creative control. Thunderdog is the first album The O's have released under their own record label, Punch Five Records, and for which they chose the studios at which to record.  They kept it all in Texas with most of the album produced at the state of the art facilities at The Sonic Ranch in Tornillo and the final touches applied at The Bubble in Austin.

Bottom line, Willie Nelson was right, "But for all around good fun there's really only one, And it's round and firm and fully packed and puts the blues on the run, And you just can't play a sad song on the banjo." 

 - Old School 


Anonymous said...

Can't play a sad song on the banjo? That's crazy. Check out "Oh Death" by the famous Dock Boggs.

Anonymous said...

William Elliott whitmore can play a sad banjo tune.

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