By Chris DeLine
I first found out about Dan Mazer when I saw him perform as the banjoist for J.B. Beverley and the Wayward Drifters in Minneapolis last summer. The three-piece band blew me away as they played a set of songs consisting entirely of songs in a throwback to the old school country style. Under his BanjerDan moniker, Mazer’s Old Stuff is more than a classic bluegrass retrospective; it introduces the banjo as a versatile instrument with seemingly limitless capabilities. Compiled from sessions between 1985 and 1990, the album demonstrates Mazer’s command of not only the banjo, but the guitar, mandolin and dobro.
Pat Mahoney, a one time writer for Bluegrass Unlimited, once commented on a riff Mazer played for him, “You young pickers! All you want to do is play fast! Where’s the tone? Where’s the taste? Where’s the timing?” Mazer replied, “Old Man, if you don’t shut up, I’ll name the tune for you!” And he did! “Mahoney’s Mumble” opens the album as one of the fastest, sharpest banjo-lead instrumentals I’ve ever heard. “Till The End of the World Rolls ‘Round” is a lively cover of a Lester Flatt & Earl Scrugg song; a band which some consider to be the most famous bluegrass band of all time. Mazer comments on “Soldier’s Joy,” noting that it is his “shot at a one-man-band experience.” Rightfully so as the traditional fiddle song exhibits Mazer on the banjo, guitar, mandolin and dobro.
The next few songs run through some great original instrumentals as well as some brilliant renditions of old traditionals; but the song that catches me most from this segment of the album is “The Guys in the Suits and Ties.” Mazer recalls the song’s source as a comment his young hippy brother made to his father, “Look! Dad’s got to wear a tie. That’s a symbol of corporate slavery, man! I’m NEVER gonna wear a tie!” I personally have a mild contempt for hippies, but I have to agree with the sentiments of the song all the same. How can I “chase a dollar” when I want to live my life? As a business student, I wrestle with this battle between searching for the truth, and the next dollar daily. Regardless, the song aims to find a balance between doing what you have to and finding the peace you may seek and succeeds in the process.
A beautifully cover of Stephen Stills “4 & 20” shows Mazer’s true range by remarkably transferring the song into an achingly slow, brooding ballad. It is through his excellent interpretations of Brazilian, bluegrass and even Chopin pieces that Mazer reveals the many sides of an often typecast instrument. I don’t think you can listen to this album and not agree with the sentiments that Mazer proudly advertises; banjos rock!
Originally posted March 1, 2006 at https://www.chrisdeline.com/blog/banjerdan-old-stuff