Frail whale
August 12, 2013 5:16 AM   Subscribe

I have an inordinate crush on songs like Sufjan Steven's "For the Widows of Paradise" and in general love the sound of clawhammer/frailing banjo. Can you help me find more not-strictly-traditional music featuring clawhammer banjo?

Old Man Luedeke, Uncle Earl, and Steve Martin are already on my radar in this regard. Also, I've only sampled Sufjan Steven's work--some of it I like quite a bit but lots of it I find insufferable. So if you can point me to awesome clawhammer tracks out of his ample discography that would also be super. Finally, I'm not really looking for YouTube live-performance clips but rather published tracks.

Note: I am not asking about songs that use Scruggs-style/fingerpicking banjo. I've read things associating clawhammer and Mumford and Sons, but from what I've seen/heard, they always use a fingerpicking style. Counterevidence welcome.
posted by drlith to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
You are certain to find something in Béla Fleck's library.
posted by three blind mice at 5:40 AM on August 12, 2013

You want Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet. Abigail is Fleck's wife to boot. Sample. More.
posted by jquinby at 6:28 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

This might not be up your alley, but this song actually has some awesome banjo (more towards the end) and a really interesting mashup of styles.

Edit: Also around 1:44 and 2:33
posted by DeltaForce at 6:44 AM on August 12, 2013

That clip labeled 'clawhammer' looks like he's doing more of a "thumb lead" style, which is something different. RE: Béla Fleck, his style is not typical Scruggs, but he does usually play in a 3-finger "melodic" style. (I'm not familiar with his entire catalog, though... it's possible he does some clawhammer somewhere.)

Anyway, on to the question! Not-strictly-traditional can be tricky, but I'll take it to mean "doesn't necessarily sound like a slavish imitation of something Alan Lomax recorded 60 years ago." Hopefully others can chime in with some artists who feature clawhammer banjo in more contemporary original songwriting, but here are some artists worth checking out. Some are fairly traditional but feature prominent, well-played banjo and others are doing their own thing built on old-timey foundations. I'm having a hard time tracking down YouTube links to studio recordings, but hopefully most of it can be browsed on Spotify:
  • John Hartford and Bob Carlins' album The Fun of Open Discussion, lovely clawhammer and fiddle duets
  • Adam Hurt
  • Arnie Naiman & Chris Coole's Five Strings Attached with No Backing album
  • The Duhks
  • Carolina Chocolate Drops

posted by usonian at 6:53 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dark Dark Dark, and Thao and the Get Down Stay Down both have this sound.
posted by jennyjenny at 7:21 AM on August 12, 2013

Califone often incorporates this -- e.g., Slow Rt. Hand.
posted by scody at 8:43 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Billy Faier (previously), Clifton Hicks, Chris Coole (of course), entertainment for the braindead, Holland Hopson, Rob Stenson, … amongst many others.
posted by scruss at 10:04 AM on August 12, 2013

... oh, and Tall Tall Trees.
posted by scruss at 10:05 AM on August 12, 2013

Have a look at this.
posted by Callicvol at 8:56 AM on August 13, 2013

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