Craig Korth is one of Canada’s most recognizable bluegrass personalities. His quick-witted stage banter belies his chosen instrument (Sorry…that will be the only banjo player crack!) and he has guested with a variety of Canadian bluegrass and folk talents including Jenny Lester, the Bill Hilly Band, Ronnie Hayward (a vocalist who appears here on a bluesy, forlorn “The Ice Runs Through Your Bones,”) and Maria Dunn.
However, Craig Korth is best known as the Gibson banjo-playing component of Jerusalem Ridge, certainly Alberta’s- and possibly Canada’s- premier bluegrass band. Over the course of fifteen years and several releases, Korth and Jerusalem Ridge have strengthened the bluegrass presence in more small towns and cold community halls than he likely cares to remember.
Stepping out on his own for Bankview, Korth has assembled friends such as bassist Trisha Gagnon (Tumbleweed, John Reischman & the Jaybirds), smooth guitar picker and album co-producer Jim Nunally (Reischman & the Jaybirds, Due West, David Grisman Bluegrass Experience), fiddler Byron Myhre (Jerusalem Ridge), and vocalists Billy Cowsill (the Cowsills, Blue Northern, the Co-Dependants) and Julie Kerr to create a genre-shifting debut.
With only two vocal tracks, the intensity of Bankview is maintained through the embellishment of melody. John Reischman, playing both his Gibson F5 Loar mandolin and a Heiden model, is central to this album’s sound. He is afforded ample opportunity to display his remarkable attributes within the melodies established by Korth and through some stunning breaks. His playing on “Jackson” pushes the song to a fervent conclusion while his intricate touch on “Menaik Road/Bush In The Peg Hole” is light but integral.
To great effect, a fresh bluegrass foursome reinterprets an instrumental number previously recorded by Jerusalem Ridge, “Beyond The Ridge;” Korth’s banjo on this number has always brought to mind Jerry Douglas’s Dobro fills on “Steel Rails” (Alison Krauss). An intriguing and successful experiment in timing and interplay has Korth and his compatriots playing the same song twice- once slowly (“Half Baked”) and later as a full frontal, modern bluegrass burner (“Burnt.”)
Korth is a dedicated, enthusiastic proponent of banjo playing for fun before profit; this is a man who enjoys practicing and jamming with friends as much- if not more than- as performing on stage. His playing is tastefully restrained but can make a jaw drop in flat-out wonderment as on “Burnt” and “Pilot’s Rest.” Blessed with talent, Korth is also a very fine guitarist- check out “My Friend Jim,” which features some impressive cross picking.
Comparing favorably in mood with Reischman’s and John Miller’s duos and Chris Thile’s expansive instrumentals, Craig Korth has produced a brave, evocative and temperamental album that is more substantive than simple hot licks. Bankview is a massive undertaking replete with fortitude to challenge and defeat constraints and expectations. The most conservative of Korth’s bluegrass fan base will likely not warm to Bankview as they have Jerusalem Ridge’s albums; those open to less conventional definitions of bluegrass and acoustiblue music are in for a treat.
With all due respect to his previous considerable and varied achievements, Craig Korth, on Bankview, demonstrates progression from Musician to Artist.
From Bluegrass Now Magazine