10 songs with outstanding banjo playing

About the list: This list contains outstanding banjo playing. The banjo playing doesn’t need to be in the foreground, technically superior or even spectacular in any way. My only criteria is that the playing has to be outstanding. You will know when you hear it.

    

No

 Cover Song/Album Artist

Notes

 

 

1

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Hard Times / Ghost Town

(2006)

 

 

.357 String Band

.357 String Band’s deft banjo player, Joseph Huber, showcases a varied and colorful embroidery of banjo playing in this song. .357 String Band played faster than their own shadows, but never missed a note.

 

 

2

 

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Where the Wind Will Let Me Go / Giving My Bones to the Western Lands

(2015)

 

 

Slackeye Slim

This song sweeps you away. A banjo starts to pick and doesn't go away or fade out as expected but instead it starts to attack real hard, but never takes over. The song will almost certain appear on the ”outstanding saw” list also. Digital only.

 

 

3

 

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Summer Breeze / Defiant  

(2007)

 

 

Christian Williams

Charlie read his Bible everyday. ”But then his wife died and he began to change.” Charlie wanted to be reunited with his wife, but got more than he bargained for. The banjo - a zeppified Deering Goodtime - is merciless in the hands of Christian Williams.

 

 

4

 

killaspider

 

 

 Taking Up Serpents Again / Taking Up Serpents Again

(2004)

 

 

 Curtis Eller's American Circus

The album contains tons of banjo. "Taking Up Serpents Again” refers to snake handling (prohibited but still practiced). Curtis Eller knows what he is doing. The banjo picking is exquisite. "I’m speaking in tongues unknown to men".

 

 

5

 

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Wayfaring Stranger / Let the Devil In

(2015)

 

 

Uncle Sinner

The song starts with a lingering and melancholic banjo loop. The long instrumental parts between the verses, where there’s only the banjo playing (and some muffled foot-stomping) are magic and moments when time almost stands still.

 

 

6

 

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A Golden Veil / Thin & Pale

(2009)

 

 

The Mountain Apple Epidemic

This album is placed no. 4 on the ”essential gothic americana” list. In my opinion a very correct and well-deserved placement. Just listen to the banjo playing on "A Golden Veil" if you have any doubts. Equally enigmatic and atmospheric.

 

  

7

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 Charlotte / 13 

(2003)

 

 

 

Blackgrass

 
The banjo lingers on from the beginning to the end. There’s nothing fancy about the banjo playing, but it gives the song - with its thoughtful lyrics - weight and structure. Blackgrass really knows how to use the banjo in their songs.

 

 

8

 

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Reach Out Your Hand / Too Close to Heaven

(2008)

 

 

The Dad Hose Experience

Dad Horse initially tried to learn to play guitar, but it didn’t work so God sent him a four-string tenor banjo. The song is a good example of practice makes (almost) perfect. Dad Horse’s banjo playing is raw and simple, but very effective.

 

 

9

thecruelmother

 

 

Muerto County / Songs of Muerto County

(2005)

 

 

Puerto Muerto

Another song with well-placed banjo playing, which crowns the song. You get very far - in fact all the way - with the help of some simple banjo chords. The mood is hereby set. Not only for this song, but for the whole album.

 

 

10

inthepinesrc

 

 

Sinners Soul / In Life We Can't Be Free 

(2009)

 

 

 Highlonesome

Bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe, described bluegrass as: "it has a high lonesome sound." There’s nothing high and lonesome over Highlonesome. It’s full speed from the beginning to the end. This is high-octane mountainbilly with intense banjo playing.