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New Kentucky String Ticklers - Generations (CD, 2005)
by Jerome Clark, 10/16/2005
The New Kentucky String Ticklers are three pickers: guitarist Don Rogers, mandolinist Danny Williams, and bassist Danny Cecil. The instruments are all acoustic, but there isn’t a banjo or fiddle in earsight. This is not, in other words, bluegrass, but it’s one taste in a musical stew whose other flavors include folk, country, and jazz. Too often these neither-fish-nor-fowl approaches are more annoyingly unfocused than nutritionally satisfying. That, happily, is not the case here. A remarkably warm and accessible recording, Generations has enough going on inside it to repay repeated listenings.
Rogers’s grandfather and three great uncles made up the original Kentucky String Ticklers. The current Ticklers are not reprising the original band’s old-time repertoire but turning, for about half of the cuts, to flat-picked, self-composed instrumentals, with sounds owing a whole lot more to Dave Grisman than to Uncle Dave Macon.
Rogers and Williams alternate vocals on the original songs (the only non-original is the folk-gospel standard “I Am a Pilgrim,” done in a striking modern arrangement). Their thematic points of reference are mostly regional and traditional, no more so than in the grim ballad of Civil War-era murder and vengeance, “Townsend Cave.” On the other hand, “A Thousand Times” could pass as a song the Grateful Dead might have done in one of its unplugged moments. And in another, grittier arrangement, “Untangle My Mind” would sound at home in a honkytonk jukebox, but there’s not a thing wrong with it as is.
Generations succeeds because the musicians, accomplished as they are, convey not simple technical brilliance – though that’s here in abundance -- but personality, creating an almost conversational approach and conjuring up an emotional depth that may catch the listener unaware at first. Even those – count me among them – who ordinarily prefer more basic approaches will be hard-pressed to resist this amiably dazzling recording’s generous supply of charms.