Rex McGee,
24 Creations for Solo Banjo
(self-produced, 2000)

Rex McGee has banjo chops coming out his ears, as is ably demonstrated on this collection of 24 original compositions. The individual pieces average around the two- to three-minute mark and are titled only by their key signatures, which hardly makes for instant recognition beyond the ranks of the cognoscenti ("Hey, Rex, give us a little of that good ol' 'E flat minor!'"). What McGee can do with a banjo is extraordinary, and I'd recommend this CD not only for pure banjo fans and players interested from a technical angle, but for all those who love acoustic music. Admittedly, the most casual fans of bluegrass and banjo might not find the compositions all that interesting in and of themselves, but more dedicated fans will recognize both the composing and playing skills of this exciting musician.

While all 24 tracks are of interest, a few really stand out. Whatever starts out track 11 doesn't sound like a banjo at all. It sounds bowed, and shows the variety of sounds that McGee is able to coax from his instrument. Track 14 shows some real flashes of compositional mettle, and there's some welcome dissonance in track 17, which could be subtitled "Banjo Nightmare" -- I loved it. Track 21 is alive with contrasting dynamics and effects, from light plucking to a heavy rhythmic chop.

This is one of those albums that grew on me the more I heard it. Anyone playing a solo instrument for an entire CD is taking a risk of boring the listener, but fortunately McGee's talent is as big as his figurative cojones in undertaking such a project. His playing is consummately skillful, and he keeps strong rhythms going throughout. His touch can be both tender and powerful, often at the same time. The tunes run the extremes between rock and baroque, and the moods vary from inward-looking to raucous. If you've heard and enjoyed Bela Fleck and Tony Trishcka's solo recordings, or if you've got a taste for the more experimental and adventurous in acoustic music, check this one out.

[ by Chet Williamson ]
Rambles: 16 March 2002

Visit McGee's website.