Black Twig Pickers: Mike Gangloff (vocals, resonator guitar, gut-string baritone banjo); Isak Howell (vocals, guitar); Ralph Berrier Jr. (vocals, fiddle).
Progressive bluegrass in the style of some of Leo Kottke or John Fahey's more roots-oriented salvos, the second album by Virginia's Black Twig Pickers marries unusual instrumentation like cello and baritone banjo, along with some Fahey-like drones and other Eastern influences, to a set heavy on the traditional folk. As a result, familiar -- some might even say clich‚d -- tunes like "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor" and the increasingly overused "O Death" get new life breathed into them. In the case of the latter, the song is transformed, with Mike Gangloff and Ralph Berrier, Jr.'s bitter call and response vocals and surprisingly aggressive, percussive instrumental attack recalling the psychedelic rock versions of Kaleidoscope and Camper Van Beethoven more than, say, Ralph Stanley's better-known rendition. The originals are even better, with the handful of instrumentals the best of all, particularly the heartbreaking, haunting closer "This War Is Killing Me" and Gangloff's almost jazzy solo workout for the peculiar baritone banjo, "Ironto Special," which marries a cyclical fingerpicked melody to a hypnotic drone. ~ Stewart Mason