A Charming Introduction: Reviewing Charm City Junction's Debut Recording
As a listener of traditional music, I've always been moved by subtlety, finding much to be garnered from musicians who are truly steeped and saturated with the idioms of their musical language, and where mastery is shown by depth instead of flash and flair. It's this sense of saturation and depth that we find in Charm City Junction, a Baltimore-based quartet featuring bluegrass fiddler Patrick McAvinue, old-time banjoist Brad Kolodner, irish accordionist Sean McComiskey and jazz-trained bassist Alex Lacquement, whose debut self-titled recording serves as an incredible document not only these musicians' deeply seeded musical heritages but also an incredible merger of stylistic approach.
Furthermore, as diverse players with far reaching backgrounds, the group is brought together by a mutual love of interesting repertoire. The track list features both familiar and unfamiliar tunes presented by each member in the liner notes, each with a unique backstory and personal connection. the album spans the gambit of traditional music, ranging from bluegrass, old-time and irish classics to obscure tunes by Bill Monroe, Ian Stephenson and Pat Shaw to name a few. It becomes clear upon the first listen that this is a group with incredible maturity as arrangers and craftsmen where every tune highlights yet another strength of these fiery, young instrumentalists.
What sets this album apart from many recordings of a similar ilk its orchestrational breadth- unique instrumentation provides the opportunity for interesting timbres and arrangements while still feeling 'traditional'. The album kicks off with solo fiddle soon accompanied by the dancing rhythms of banjo clucks setting the stage for the band to enter moments after. Later in the album, we hear a more modern interpretation of the old-time favorite, "Greasy Coat" where claps and body percussion laced singing fiddle harmonics weave throughout Lacquement's blues-y groove solo leading into the melody of the tune only to resolve into a more traditional take halfway through the track. Charm City Junction also sports a number of vocal tracks ("Train on the Island", "I've Got a Woman", and "I'm Troubled") featuring Kolodner, McAvenue and Lacquement each taking lead respectively) and harmony to further the variety in arrangement. Beyond the spectacular playing, I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of the record, with particular emphasis on the harmonic core (especially considering the lack of traditional harmonic grounding- typically the role of guitar in such an outfit) being taken by both fiddle and accordion. Of the recordings presented, CCJ's take of Ian Stephenson's "Return to Helsinki" is a personal favorite.
Folk musicians and listeners alike will delight at this recording! Check out their website (see below) for tour dates as well as links to purchase their recordings.
Charm City Junction
Patrick McAvinue - fiddle, mandolin, voice
Brad Kolodner - banjo, voice
Sean McComiskey - accordion
Alex Lacquement - bass, voice
Recording Engineer - Ben Somerville
Mixing Engineer - Tom Mindte
Mastering - Bill Wolf (Wolf Productions)
Technicians - Mikey Ambrosino, Jordan Levine
Photography and Album Design - Michael G. Stewart
Design Assistant - Christa McInturff