Banjo without the Inbreeding
February 29, 2008 4:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm a sucker for the "dying but smiling" feeling I get from the sound of a banjo. What modern/recent songs have banjo in them? I'm looking for things that don't fall neatly under the category of bluegrass - a pop/rock/alternative song that just happens to have a banjo rather than Bela Fleck/String Cheese Incident/Cherryholmes type stuff.
posted by Kappi to Media & Arts (46 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
The Magnetic Fields are good for this. "All My Little Words" comes to mind.
posted by seldomfun at 4:15 PM on February 29, 2008

Best answer: Great Lake Swimmers
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 4:20 PM on February 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Violent Femme's "Country Death Song"
posted by SBMike at 4:22 PM on February 29, 2008

Feist - 1 2 3 4.
posted by RussHy at 4:24 PM on February 29, 2008

I would recommend watching "Searching for the wrong eyed Jesus," a documentary by Jim White (the country-ish guy, not the Dirty Three drummer) and then get the sound track. It will introduce you to a lot of good banjoists, including 16 horsepower, Woven Hand and The Handsome Family.

I don't think it'll be too appalachia for you, but apologies if I'm off.
posted by OrangeDrink at 4:28 PM on February 29, 2008

Travis- "Sing" (from The Invisible Band)
posted by mkultra at 4:29 PM on February 29, 2008

The Boy Least Likely To.
posted by logic vs love at 4:31 PM on February 29, 2008

Modest Mouse's "Satin in a Coffin" has a banjo in it, although it is much more of a "dying" than "smiling" kind of song.

Lupe Fiasco's song "Gotta Eat" has an infectious hook on it that sounds sort of like a banjo, but I'm not sure.
posted by hihowareyou at 4:32 PM on February 29, 2008

Everything by John Butler Trio. You can listen to music and full live shows at the site.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:36 PM on February 29, 2008

You might enjoy the Hayseed Dixies. They cover rock songs in a bluegrass style; 'Rockgrass' they call it. I recommend seeing them live if you get the chance.
posted by punilux at 4:40 PM on February 29, 2008

Superman by Lazlo Bane.

Most will know it as the intro song to Scrubs.
posted by lain at 4:40 PM on February 29, 2008

Sufjan Steven- The Dress Looks Nice on You (this song is what ignited my love for Sufjan)
Sufjan Stevens- For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti

Concrete Blonde- Side of the Road
posted by kimdog at 4:47 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dropkick Murphys "The State of Massachusetts" and "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya" from the new album The Meanest of Times. Other songs too, but those jump right out with banjo.
posted by dogwalker at 5:08 PM on February 29, 2008

Best answer: Elliott Brood! [not a guy, a band]

Absolutely one of my all time favourites. They're often called 'death country', but they're definitely a rock band.
posted by rhinny at 5:18 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hearty second to Elliott Brood; I was coming in here to recommend them too. They're terrific.
posted by boomchicka at 5:22 PM on February 29, 2008

band of horses.
posted by violetk at 5:23 PM on February 29, 2008

Yes, lots of Sufjan Stevens.

"Living Room" by Tegan and Sara - I can't remember off-hand if the banjo appears in any of their other songs.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 5:24 PM on February 29, 2008

Supperbell Roundup is a busking guy who tours (or used to, at least) by Greyhound Bus, just him and his banjo. At Station Four is good -- used copies start at one penny!
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 5:24 PM on February 29, 2008

Response by poster: There are some GREAT suggestions here. Sufjan Stevens was already a favourite but I don't think anyone else mentioned something I already have so lots of new discoveries. Excellent! Thank you!
posted by Kappi at 5:53 PM on February 29, 2008

Don't kill me:
Matchbox 20: "Unwell"
posted by softlord at 5:53 PM on February 29, 2008

Do "old Man" or "For the Turnstiles" by Neil young count as modern?
posted by bottlebrushtree at 6:07 PM on February 29, 2008

The banjo in the Shins' song "Australia" always makes me smile.
posted by macguffin at 6:21 PM on February 29, 2008

Sufjan Stevens and Boy Least Likely To are good suggestions. I'm pretty sure there's a banjo in Neutral Milk Hotel's King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 2. I can't think of any banjo in Band of Horses.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:32 PM on February 29, 2008

The Avett Brothers veer towards bluegrass once in a while, but a lot of their music is hard-driving, gritty acoustic rock. Check out "Die, Die, Die" from "Emotionalism".
posted by underthehat at 6:39 PM on February 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh, on second thought, Band of Horses have some banjo, sorry. But I wouldn't recommend them.

On preview: Avett Brothers, good call.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:40 PM on February 29, 2008

R.E.M., "Electrolite"
posted by anazgnos at 6:46 PM on February 29, 2008

I play the banjo and I am from Ohio and I am offended by the stereotype perpetuated by the title of this question, even if it might be ironic.

So I will recommend Eddie Brown, Grupo Fundal de Quintal, and Mick Moloney just to give you a hard time.
posted by billtron at 6:59 PM on February 29, 2008

I mean Fundo, not Fundal.
posted by billtron at 7:05 PM on February 29, 2008

The Go! Team - Everyone's a VIP to Someone (on which I thought the banjo was sampled, but here they are performing it live)
The Monks (electrified banjo, maybe not the feeling you're looking for)
Palace Bros. - There Is No-One What Will Take Care Of You (heavy bluegrass/Appalachian influence)
Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire - Dora Goes to Town (also not exactly modern pop music)
High Llamas - Nomads
posted by hydrophonic at 7:06 PM on February 29, 2008

If you don't like bluegrass, the banjo is also quite commonly used in Dixieland.
posted by Class Goat at 7:15 PM on February 29, 2008

seattle's amazing art pop collective "Awesome" (also) has non-bluegrass banjo in nearly every piece they play.
posted by bruceo at 7:19 PM on February 29, 2008

Sufjan Stevens and John Butler Trio, definitely.

Also check out the song How We Operate by Gomez.
posted by messylissa at 8:17 PM on February 29, 2008

Oh, on second thought, Band of Horses have some banjo, sorry. But I wouldn't recommend them.

obviously, i would and i did.
posted by violetk at 8:17 PM on February 29, 2008

Okkervil River (Westfall particularly) and their sibling band Shearwater (Whipping Boy particularly)
posted by version control at 10:35 PM on February 29, 2008

Ani DiFranco uses banjo in some of her songs. "Angry Anymore" comes to mind, at the very least.
posted by fuzzbean at 10:53 PM on February 29, 2008

posted by xo at 10:59 PM on February 29, 2008

The soundtrack from Into the Wild was pleasingly full of banjo.
posted by Coaticass at 3:40 AM on March 1, 2008

I can't believe nobody's yet plugged our own ORthey, who writes heartbreakingly beautiful, real, spare indie-pop-nuggets of awesome, made equally of a sweet, soft voice and incredibly catchy banjo riffs (even whenst played on a guitar)
posted by By The Grace of God at 4:03 AM on March 1, 2008

Kris Delmhorst uses the banjo beautifully in her songs. My favorite is the devastatingly simple "Come Home on the Train," from her album Songs for a Hurricane, but all of her albums have some great banjo playing.
posted by bassjump at 6:24 AM on March 1, 2008

Response by poster: Biltron: I moved from London to the arse-end of the midwest and married a Kentucky farm boy who, although he doesn't currently have one, can play the banjo. I figure that gives me at least some wiggle room with the perpetuating of Deliverance stereotypes.

Class goat: I'm pretty fond of bluegrass, but that's easy to find. Something of any genre that happens to have a banjo is a bit trickier to hunt down through the conventional (pandora, amazon, google) means.
posted by Kappi at 6:37 AM on March 1, 2008

Kappi, I understand your position, but I'm still offended. Does the fact that I have friends in the arse-end of London (Notting Hill) give me wiggle room to say something about the quality of the teeth in your "dying but smiling" comment?

My recommendations, by the way, were an attempt to throw a wrench into what I saw as a problematic question, which I interpreted as "I like the timbre of this instrument but I am uncomfortable listening to music associated with lower-class white people. Can you give me examples of this timbre in music by white people from higher social classes?"

Bluegrass is already a modern, recent genre performed by people around the world, rich and poor. Appalachia is unfortunately an economically sabotaged part of the world with many problems, but jokes about inbreeding are tasteless, whether they make fun of people in the hills of Kentucky or in Buckingham Palace.

I know that you probably were just asking about other songs where you could hear the instrument and steering us toward your preferred genres, but you poked at one of my sore spots. Sorry for going ballistic.

Have you heard of Appalshop? I recommend listening to the music from the Holler to the Hood project to see how people are dealing musically with the stereotypes that permeate your question.
posted by billtron at 9:05 AM on March 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Billtron: If you're primed to be offended by something I intend as lighthearted and flippant then there is very little I can do about it. As I indicated to Class Goat, I enjoy bluegrass and have no qualms about listening to it - it's just not the point of the question. Indeed, the bands I quoted in my question as examples of suggestions I didn't want were chosen because they happened to be at the top of my bluegrass genre section in itunes.

Thank you for suggestions and console yourself with the knowledge that as you're not part of my large Kentucky-born American family, you don't have to participate in the regular cultural pisstaking that both sides of our transatlantic equation enjoy.
posted by Kappi at 10:06 AM on March 1, 2008

Patti Smith's recent cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" features Steve Earle on banjo.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:53 AM on March 1, 2008

"Ladylike" by Big Wreck is a damn fine Canadian hard rock song based around a banjo riff.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 12:33 PM on March 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Lilac Time.
posted by Dr.Pill at 2:27 PM on March 1, 2008

Foxface, especially What Do You Believe In?
posted by liquidindian at 3:27 PM on March 1, 2008

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