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DERROLL ADAMS - BanjoTroubadour (A Live Recording)

DERROLL ADAMS - BanjoTroubadour (A Live Recording)
Starman Records SMR037

It comes as a jolt to realise that it is now over 40 years since I first saw the late Derroll Adams perform. His set made a powerful impression on me.

I hadseen him briefly in that Dylan hotel suite with his protégé Donovan Leitch, in D.A. Pennebaker’s spellbinding documentary, Don’t Look Back, but had to make do with listening to Brits doing his material, until that summer of 1972. Some of those Brits incidentally, were very good indeed: guys like Alex Campbell and Dave Arthur.

But nothing actually prepared me for the effect of Adams in the flesh. Real charisma, with the sweetest of spoken introductions to his numbers (even if those introductions rambled on occasionally!). And a fine bass baritone voice, allied to a considerable virtuosity as a banjo player.

He may not have quite had the phenomenally fast fingers of an Earl Scruggs, but I don’t think I have ever heard a banjo player before or since know more about the dynamics of his instrument: one moment having it whisper to us delicately pianissimo, and the next moment stirring our blood with it formidably forte.

This album is a treat, not least because it is in vinyl (with an identical CD accompanying it for those unfortunate souls who have ditched their vinyl deck!)

I say “identical”, but in truth of course, the compact disc will never have quite the appeal of the LP. Not just the very slight reassuring surface hiss which was so much missed when technology progressed some 35 years ago, but also the fact we no longer have the handsome LP cover to embrace. And golly, this hinged one (which looks for all the world like a double album LP cover of yesteryear) just oozes class.

As indeed does the content of the album. These live recordings were made in 1973 and 1980, when he was living in Antwerp, that most engaging of all Belgian cities. He lived there from 1967 to his death in 2000. The recordings are made by VRT (Flemish Radio in Belgium).

The songs he sings are the songs we largely know him for. He does them with his trademark effortless ease. All ten tracks pay their rent in the album, but if pushed to name standouts, I’d say his versions of Woody Guthrie’s Ain’t Got No Home In This World Any More, and the Jimmie Rodgers’ classic Muleskinner Blues, really did it for me.

I guess the traditional Wildwood Flower works well too, but I miss the soaring voice of Joan Baez when I hear anyone else singing it! Hey, but that is just me.

Talking of “missing”: gosh, methinks nobody has ever filled Derroll’s shoes. Nor will they.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 108 of The Living Tradition magazine.