Having seen Dan Walsh, the banjo virtuoso, live with the Urban Folk Quartet several years ago, I have been eagerly awaiting this solo venture for some time now. The album doesn’t disappoint in that regard, opening with fast some paced fingerstyle banjo playing that, whilst impressive for now, builds the listener to anticipate a lot more as the album progresses. It is very banjo-heavy, and that is to be expected (so those who don’t love the instrument should look away now). However, once the introductory “The Vaults” is out of the way, “Want What You Don’t Have” showcases a different side of Walsh to what he has mostly performed with previously: that of a developed songwriter as well as a brilliant tune player.
Photo Credit: Tim Ball
The first part of the album comprises of original music, though as we start to reach the midpoint some traditional material starts to show up in the form of the expertly-performed “Glen Cottage” and an apt rendition of “The Suilin”, the latter of which stands out to me as an immediate highlight and a song I imagine would work well as a quick singalong live. “Going To The USA” then provides a brilliantly humorous take on recent changes in American visa policy from the point of view of the musician; anyone who has been following the long list of British musicians recently added to the ban-list just in time for South By Southwest can sympathise, and the intelligent (if not so subtle) political lyrics place Walsh firmly up there as a kind of banjo-playing Tim Minchin.
In fact, my first fear about this album before listening to it was that it was going to be purely for banjo/tune lovers. That is not the case. Appreciators of a good song can also find something to love here too, even if it is a bit tune oriented – as is to be expected – and whilst the banjo does provide the overriding musical presence throughout, it is masterfully recaptured and reinvented in a way that Otis Taylor would be proud of. “7/8s” is possibly the most intriguing tune; my problem with most of them would be that they are too short to develop or diversify as much as I would normally like, but just enough to still make them mostly interesting to the listener.
“Leave This Land” feels a little self-indulgent, if well-played, but like the last song before it provides a relatable experience for those musicians amongst us who have been fortunate enough to tour New Zealand. Still, if it is not currently Walsh’s encore song, it sounds like it should be! Just by listening to it, one can almost envision a packed folk club singing along to the chorus. “Out Of Here” also gives the album a more pop-blues feel, firmly cementing Dan Walsh as the banjo community’s answer to Luke Jackson. The “Banish Set” then rounds off the album with an expertly delivered set of tunes that, like the entire rest of the album, are incredibly enjoyable and a joy to listen to. Maybe Walsh does not quite reimagine the banjo to the fullest extent that he could have done with this album, but does he do what he set out to do with it? You can sure bet he does.
American friends, you can catch Dan Walsh on tour in the US later this month!