Banjo Is The New Black

10257061_10154164145340537_530601543188962793_o “I don’t like banjo music” was the start of one of the first conversations on music that I had with my wife when we met three years ago.

Now, some people would take that as an aspect of her personality, some would interpret it as a deal breaker, and some (like myself) would take it as a challenge.  Without her knowledge, I began to inject a heavy dose of Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers into my playlists when we drove around the Vancouver suburbs.

If I hadn’t had Mr. Martin readily available, the album “Any Way, Shape or Form” by the Ben Miller Band would have been an amazing alternative.

The album “Any Way, Shape or Form” is occasionally twangy, at times conflicted, but always solid.  As much as I wanted to listen to the album from start to finish, I had to start with “King Kong”.  This track had the world to live up to.  How can any track about the giant ape live up to Daniel Johnston’s ode to the misunderstood?

Somehow, Mr. Miller sets our minds at ease while telling the tale of Kong’s spiritual triumph.  He sings,  “It’s a shame to be seen as this novelty thing by some members of the cold hearted press.”  That is the perfect line for this album.

The opening track, “The Outsider,” made me yearn for the time I’ve spent barefoot in the mud at music festivals.  The second track, though, destroys any attempt at pigeon holing this album.  “You Don’t Know” exists outside of the instrumentals.  This could be interpreted as a bluegrass, country, punk, or metal track with just slight alterations to the musicians.

It’s starting to sound as though I’m saying that this album lacks theme, it does not.  “Any Way, Shape or Form” is far more than a collection of songs.  This album will start you out wanting to dance and drink ‘shine, move you to some purpose driven rock, and doesn’t give a real break until track 5’s “I Feel For You”.  This amazing track of loss will evoke all the feelings that survivors experience when their loved ones pass, but the band doesn’t let us dwell on that sadness for long before the shove us into a high energy number.

“23 Skidoo” is blissful banjo fluff and signifies a transition from the meticulously calculated songs to a couple high energy throwaway tracks until the band rights itself on “Twinkle Toes”.  This track returns to the religious themes that were last seen in the opening track, “The Outsider”.

After one more track of fluff, Mr. Miller braves religion once more with his idealistic views of heaven and how we will someday be free from the resources that we currently sacrifice so many lives over.  Whatever your religious views, Ben gives us a light hearted track about prom queens and their impending obesity and the previously mentioned ode to King Kong to close out this album.  Overall, I dug the hell out of this album.

There are bluegrassy notes, some rockish notes, and everything was overall enjoyable.  “Any Way, Shape or Form” is a great album to add to any collection that appreciates David Grisman, the Scruggs, Steve Martin, Leftover Salmon, or The Greencards or as a resource for those looking to understand the power that a banjo can have.

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