NASHVILLE, TN – May 2011- Though he had a couple of decades-old albums in his catalog that featured his stellar harmonica playing on songs of praise and worship, Buddy Greene frankly admits that he never really thought he’d make another one that reflected the breadth of his interest in the instrument’s many styles. But when a bit of video that showed him working his way through the William Tell Overture at Carnegie Hall went viral on YouTube—it’s currently nearing 2,000,000 views—Buddy decided that such a project was actually long overdue.
The result of that inspiration, Harmonica Anthology, delivers unmistakable proof that the musical Renaissance man deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as heroes like Hall of Famer Charlie McCoy (who turns up for a couple of duets), blues man Little Walter and the legendary Larry Adler. Drawing on a group of friends ranging from award-winning session players like Bryan Sutton (guitar) and fiddlers Stuart Duncan and Aubrey Haynie to bass icon Byron House (Sam Bush Band, Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy), Celtic multi-instrumentalist John Mock to pianists Gordon Mote and Jeff Taylor (who doubles here on accordion), Greene serves up a generous sixteen tracks that demonstrate his mastery of bluegrass, old-time, Celtic, blues and Americana idioms—and make for a set that’s joyous, reflective, sobering and uplifting enough to touch any listener.
“These are the directions I go as a harmonica player,” Greene says. “I love the fiddle tunes, the beautiful melodies, the quirky things—there is so much great music that translates so well to the harmonica, and I love that I was able to get so much of it on the Harmonica Anthology.” Indeed, from the rollicking opening fiddle tune, “Texas Gales,” which features Alison Krauss & Union Station’s Ron Block laying down some chunky banjo rolls behind Buddy’s lithe harmonica, to the pensive closer, “Ashokan Farewell,” the project takes a musical journey that crosses the years and the miles with consummate artistry. Among the highlights are a pair of tunes that find Buddy trading passages with the legendary McCoy - “I cut my teeth on so many of his tunes that it was just an honor to have him in the studio,” Greene says; a lilting medley of “Haste To The Wedding” and “Silver Spear” that entwines harmonica with Irish whistle and fiddle; a funky take on folk song “Old Joe Clark” that features Greene’s bluesy side; a new treatment of the William Tell Overture and other classical tunes that builds on his popular video; and a glistening take on “Shenandoah” that’s becoming a concert favorite with audiences everywhere.
Yet while the emphasis is on Buddy’s harmonica playing, there’s room for some tasty singing, too, on numbers like the old bluegrass/old-time standard, “The Train That Carried My Girl From Town,” and his original “Riding Out The Winter,” which not only stands on its own but serves as a reminder of Greene’s stature as one of Nashville’s most compelling songwriters.
When Greene stood with gospel giant Bill Gaither and talked about the harmonica in that Carnegie Hall video, there was room for plenty of gentle ribbing about the diminutive instrument’s unique status in the musical world, and Buddy Greene is still a sucker for a good harmonica joke. But as Harmonica Anthology makes clear, when Greene begins to play, while there’s room for plenty of sly musical humor and good spirits, there’s a lot more going on, too. Like any great album, it’s one that will bring a smile, perhaps a tear, and plenty of soul-nourishing enjoyment. Who would have thought all that could come from one small harmonica? The answer’s simple and clear: Buddy Greene.
~Jon Weisberger, Musician, songwriter, journalist, producer, husband, father