The Complete Book of Irish and Celtic 5-String Banjo
by Tom Hanway (Mel Bay 95759/CD)
Reviewed by Bill Keith,
originally published in the Banjo Newsletter (May, 2000)
With the publication of The Complete Book of Irish & Celtic 5-String Banjo, Tom Hanway has produced a remarkable resource. Far from being a simple collection of tablatures, this book is the fruit of years of Tom's research, and reveals his in-depth knowledge of and love for Irish music. And this feeling is contagious; as I read through the pieces in the book, I found myself wanting to play them.
As Tom explains in the introduction, many of the fiddle tunes familiar to old-time and bluegrass musicians were brought to the United States by the first Irish and Scottish immigrants, and became a part of American musical culture. Many tunes such as "The Red-Haired Boy", "Miss McLeod's Reel", "Leather Britches", and one of my favorites, "Devil's Dream" had their origins in Gaelic music. And with more than one hundred tunes in this book, Tom tempts the 5-string player with many more tunes from the Celtic Diaspora.
For most bluegrass banjoists, many Irish and Celtic tunes have been challenging to learn because of their melodic and rhythmic subtleties. But with a carefully structured series of exercises on ornamentation and rhythmic back-up, Tom demystifies the complexities of hornpipes, strathspeys, jigs and reels, making them accessible and a pleasure to learn. And the complete glossary of musical terms will be invaluable to the serious student.
The CD that accompanies the book is a treasure in itself. For many people who feel intimidated when learning music from the printed page, hearing Tom play most of the tunes in the book may remove the final obstacle preventing them from diving in and discovering this wonderful music.
Hats off to Mel Bay for publishing this attractive volume (MB95759), and especially to Tom Hanway for sharing this music with us.