By David Royko
Raymond W. McLain
A Place Of My Own
Flying Fish FF 70597 (1991)
Banjoist Raymond W. McLain grew up with his parents and siblings in the McLain Family Band, and later moved in, figuratively speaking, with Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys. Emancipated from being strictly a sideman, he now has a place of his own, and what a pad it is, each room unique, inviting, impeccably designed and decorated, and all adorned with surprising and delightful details. House guests include brother Michael and sister Ruth, Jim and Jesse McReynolds, fiddlers Glen Duncan and Blaine Sprouse, and harmonica howler Mike Stevens.
This is primarily an instrumental album, with a few engaging vocals thrown in. Five of the thirteen tracks are originals, the other seven coming from bluegrass and beyond, far beyond. Bob Wills' "Maiden's Prayer" is given a radiant performance, Duncan waxing sentimental with his dual fiddling, while on "Shuckin' The Corn," McLain's soaring improvisation ventures into realms only hinted at by Flatt, Scruggs and Graves. Zez Confrey's novelty number "Kitten On The Keys" sounds downright giddy; this cut would fit perfectly on a Wretched Refuse String Band record. Truly classic is McLain's handling of "Bells of St. Mary." Jesse McReynolds cross-picks an enchanting solo, gently launching the banjo into an harmonics passage which blends so beautifully into the sparse ensemble fabric that it takes away one's breath.
McLain's originals are stunning. The title track is a delicate waltz, allowing Duncan's fiddle to caress and explore the lilting melody. In happy contrast is the scorching "Silver Creek," and the yearning, sorrowful "Windswept," a showpiece for McLain's lyricism. Backed only by Jesse McReynolds' one man mandolin section, this is a mood piece with substance. "Raymond's Breakdown" is a compelling exhibition for bluegrass trio, with brother and sister catapulting their sib into the fast lane. Finally, the alarming turns taken by McLain as he glides through "On The Road" pushes the traditional banjo envelope almost to the breaking point, stopping just short of the newgrass precipice.
The sound is pure and open, the playing time short (36:41), but with music of this quality, for a change I'm not complaining. This is an essential release.
---David Royko [Chicago, IL]---