After half a decade, I still think Africa to Appalachia is one of the best contributions to the genre of koras-with-other-things. Jayme Stone was the Other Thing. He has a lightly ephemeral way of picking his banjo, not light as in lightweight but light as in almost sneakily offhand and quiet: it’s easy to miss how good he is. He’s like a man buttering a piece of bread, everything spreads out so easily.
The Other Side of the Air is supposed to be based around the idea of islands but you might as well ignore that and let it be a collection of tracks with different themes: two Mali-melodied numbers, both unalike; one concerto “for banjo and chamber symphony” in four movements by his longtime collaborator Andrew Downing who plays with atonality and ragtime; a slow “Tennessee Waltz”, and so forth. Tracks such as the Downing collab and “A Poet in Her Own Country”—which was inspired by Stone’s friendship with the poet Ronna Bloom and sits at about the size of a chamber orchestra, with the shadowy moo of large bowed strings and a creeping french horn—give this album a more European-classical sound than the kora collaboration, but there’s a unifying thoughtfulness across all of his work, a relaxed openness to influences. This combination of ambition and freedom is something I like very much.
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