Banjo wunderkind Nora Brown has been uncommonly feted for her brilliant playing and authentic interpretations of American stringband music. With her new album, Long Time to Be Gone, she’s fully arrived as a confident interpreter of Southern old-time music, playing the banjo with depth, subtlety, and care.
Recorded amidst the echoing walls of St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn, home of the Brooklyn Folk Festival, the banjos on this album ring and ring. It’s a stark recording, stripped back to one young woman and her banjo, full of warmth and heart.
On the glorious “Wild Goose Chase,” she slips effortlessly through soft harmonics in the higher reaches and revels as well in the deeper tones of the instrument. Her version of the classic song “Little Satchel” contrasts between her own vocals, with a hint of an indie vibe, and the frenetic virtuosity of her banjo.
In the liner notes, Brown talks about hanging out and learning from John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers. Cohen, who was something of a mentor for her, sadly passed away in 2019. As a tribute, Brown plays on a banjo of Cohen’s that was also a particularly favored instrument for the great Roscoe Holcomb. Cohen discovered Holcomb in Appalachia and they frequently toured together.
This unbroken chain from Holcomb to Cohen to Brown is a compelling way to look at how Appalachian music is really transmitted. One wonders if Cohen’s world was as foreign and intriguing to Brown in her youth as Holcomb’s Kentucky home was to a young John Cohen. Either way, Brown found the same inspiration from Cohen that Cohen had originally found in Holcomb. And so the wheel turns ever on.
Long Time to Be Gone is available HERE.