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Rob McCoury - 5-String Flame Thrower
CD Review by Cliff Levenson on 8/19/2014   

Years ago I went to Rosine, Kentucky–the birth place of Bill Monroe--to participate in the Saturday night jam at the community center.  After a visit to the Monroe gravesite, I went to the jam.  A couple of the locals asked where I was from. When I said “Arizona, “ there was surprise that I would come that far just to play the local music with the locals. When I said that, actually, I had people in Nebo (a town about 60 miles away) there was the same level of surprise that I would come that far.  I realized then that Bill Monroe is known as the father of bluegrass, not because he invented the music, but because he was among the first to travel with the  music..

Del McCoury is another bluegrass icon, and he and his sons have carried on the tradition of spreading the bluegrass gospel far and wide.  It is no coincidence that the band made up of the brothers McCoury is called the Travelin’ McCourys.   And now, banjo virtuoso Rob McCoury has released his first solo album,  "The 5-String Flamethrower.”

While the McCourys are known for stretching the boundaries of bluegrass (witness the covers of Richard Thompson’s Vincent Black Lighting and the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Nashville Cats,” not to mention the eclectic line up at Delfest), “The 5-String Flamethrower” is a tour de force of traditional bluegrass banjo.   Of the 15 tracks on the album, there are two traditionals, two Earl Scruggs tunes, three Don Reno tunes, and two Sonny Osborne tunes, on which Rob demonstrates both his reverence for the old masters, and his ability to interpret and add to the cannon. 

Except for the fact that Jerry Garacia was a great bluegrass banjo player, you could say that Rob McCoury is the Jerry Garcia of banjo.  Both of these guys’ easygoing, playful and endlessly curious intellect is reflected in their conversation, and in the players that contribute to their music.  On “The 5-String Flamethrower,” Rob even coaxed Sonny Osborne out of retirement to play on his own “We Could.”  

“The 5-String Flamethrower” does not stray from the true bluegrass vine, but shows that being true to the music, and serving the song, proves that bluegrass is alive and evolving, while honoring and reveling in its roots.  For those who love banjo music, Rob McCoury’s “The 5-String Flamethrower” was well worth the wait.

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