Rounder Records has reissued the long out-of-print album, Hill Country, which now, through a bit of technological time-shifting, is oddly the follow-up to 2007’s Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular. Originally released in 1985, the album was a departure for Trischka, who admitted in the liner notes to being “a modern, or avant-garde, banjo player, and this reputation is certainly well founded,” as he revealed an ability to create a traditional bluegrass sound, which the album’s title evokes. There’s no surprise that his love for traditional bluegrass came from the legends Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs, who inspire most people’s love for the genre. He spent many hours wearing out the records in an effort “to absorb not just the technique of their music, but the emotion as well.”
Trischka surrounded himself with talented individuals, who are well-known names in bluegrass. Over the course of two different single-day sessions, guitarists Del McCoury and Tony Rice, mandolin player Sam Bush, Dobro player Jerry Douglas, and banjoist Béla Fleck, who studied under Trischka, accompanied him. Fleck also produced the Nashville sessions while Trischka handled the duties of the Springfield, Virginia sessions.
The album opens with “Brandy Station.” The quick pace and the repetition of the instruments all playing similar leads evoke a train passing through rolling hills of the South. “Sunny Days” triples the pleasure as Trischka is joined on banjo by the song’s co-writer Sonny Osborne and Fleck.
“Looking for the Light,” the only song on the album with lyrics, is a gospel number. The lead vocal is sung by Del McCoury and his son, bassist Jerry, joins in on harmony. Another difference in the song is that Trischka’s banjo plays no leads, only offering support.
Throughout “New York Chimes,” Trischka offers some intriguing moments as he creates the sounds of chimes, likely plunking the strings between the bridge and the tailpiece. “Strawberry Plains” is the longest song, the only one to last more than four minutes, and it provides a great showcase, allowing the musicians more time to stretch out. “Mississippi Sawyer,” a short traditional song that finds Trischka supporting fiddle player Eddie Stubbs, follows it. On “Crosseyed Cricket,” the mandolin and fiddle take turns emulating a cricket’s song.
Hill Country is a wonderful nod to yesteryear and it’s good to see its reemergence. The album’s only flaw is that it runs less than 37 minutes, and that includes the bonus track “Buffalo Creek” from 2000’s Knee Deep in Bluegrass: The AcuTab Sessions, a very good tune with more of a modern bluegrass sound. The CD booklet has the original liner notes by Trischka as well as new notes from mandolin player Ron Thomason of Dry Branch Fire Squad and banjo player Tom Adams.