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Banjo icon Tony Trischka has been playing music for well over half a century, and to list his bluegrass collaborators would take just about as long. But what sets Tony apart from many of the rest are his collaborations outside of the traditional (bluegrassy) music scene, and that’s what he’s celebrating in this segment of his Joe’s Pub residency.
That the featured artists all happen to be massively accomplished women is a bonus to celebrate. The “Better Halves” are five extraordinary musicians with whom Tony has had the honor to perform or record. These collaborations began about 25 years ago with his sixth solo album, the critically acclaimed World Turning.
The album opens and closes with singer-songwriter/indie-rocker Syd Straw (“nothing short of fearless in [her] mix of powerful, personally felt music and unfettered sense of play” – LA Times ), so it was a given that Tony would invite her to tonight’s festivities. Tracy Bonham (“brings a sophisticated quirkiness to the femme alt-pop table unseen for quite some time.”—Billboard) was in the Wayfaring Strangers band with Tony in the early 2000s. Their repertoire included jazzy arrangements of bluegrass songs, and vice-versa. His collaborations with Catherine Russell (“a premier interpreter of classic 20th century jazz, blues and R&B” – Downbeat) began about five years ago when she sang a gospel tune on Tony’s Great Big World, and she has a profound presence on his forthcoming Civil War-themed project. Martha Redbone has a voice that Jon Pareles described in The New York Times as having “both the taut determination of mountain music and the bite of American Indian singing." Tony first met Martha when The Public put them together in an ensemble that also featured Pulitzer Prize winner and Public Theater Playwright in Residence Suzan-Lori Parks. They’ve had too few meetings since then, so he’s looking forward to working with her on this show. Last, but most definitely not least, is up-and-coming old-time banjo phenom and singer Nora Brown, who will perform with Tony for the first time this evening. Joshua Weinstein, in his short film about Nora, states, “she’s redefining what a young musician can and can’t do.” Tony agrees, but adds, “she can do a LOT!” Other artists will join The Better Halves, and Tony couldn’t be more excited. It’s no wonder that NPR’s Tom Ashbrook describes him as “the great banjo liberationist.”
“Father of banjo fusion.” – Wall Street Journal
“Urban bluegrass whiz.” – Time
“Shows a conceptual daring that goes well beyond hot licks” – Rolling Stone