By Donald Teplyske
A year ago when Ned Luberecki left his long-term gig with Chris Jones & the Night Drivers, one questioned such a significant career move.
Chris Jones & the Night Drivers responded with another terrific album Made to Move, a release that reveals no hint that the group stumbled with Luberecki’s departure. Luberecki immediately signed on with Becky Buller, and while the current line-up of her group hasn’t yet released a recording, reports of their live presence have been positive.
Now Luberecki releases Take Five, his first solo release in a number of years. With a significant jazzgrass interlude mid-set, the album is not strictly a bluegrass recording—but there’s no shortage of bluegrass spread across its 44 minutes, and by interjecting various elements—a tribute to Buck Owens, banjo and fiddle tunes, and jazz standards—Luberecki has created a banjo recording of significance, one of the most listenable banjo albums in recent memory.
Appropriately, the album kicks off with the spirited “Night Driver,” a lively instrumental featuring his compadres Chris Jones & the Night Drivers as well as fiddler Jeremy Garrett, who has also has spent time amongst the Night Drivers.
Another highlight is “Adams County Breakdown,” from Tom Adams, featuring the impressive supergroup of Rob Ickes (Dobro), and the Helen Highwater Stringband—aka Missy Raines (bass), David Grier (guitar), Mike Compton (mandolin), and Shad Cobb (fiddle.) This crew, minus Ickes, also delivers the “B-Flat Medley” of “Done Gone” and “New Camptown Races,” with Luberecki’s 5-string finding the sweet spot among his influences. Cobb’s fiddle on this number is especially enjoyable, while Grier’s break is naturally flawless.
Additionally, a small handful of vocal tracks are included. The album’s most appealing number is a new one written by Dale Ann Bradley and Kelley Luberecki. Revisiting her familiar theme of mountain roots, Bradley delivers a typically excellent performance on “Higher Ground,” with Buller joining on harmony while the Night Drivers and Garrett provide the instrumentation.
Amanda Smith returns with a fine lead on “We’ll Put Out the Fire” (a Jon Weisberger/Vida Wakeman co-write) while Luberecki and duet partner Stephen Mougin ably deliver an Owens medley of “Before You Go” and “Let the World Keep on Turnin’.”
Luberecki and Buller insert a pair of fiddle-banjo duets, “Kitchen Squirrel Medley” and the Celtic-flavored “Cleveland Park.” As a wee bonus, Buller sings “Fiddlin’ Dan” in the same configuration.
While jazz isn’t my thing, I do tend to enjoy it more when banjo meets up with Dave Brubeck. The title track kicks off a four-tune interlude that allows Luberecki, accompanied by Missy Raines & the New Hip, to stretch different muscles while avoiding low-hanging fruit. Paul Desmond’s “Take Five,” “Girl from Ipanema,” Luberecki’s “Earl’s Court,” and “Blue Monk” are not for the faint of heart, and Luberecki’s arrangements showcase not only his versatility, but creative juices some of us were previously unaware.
The only notable misstep occurs with Luberecki’s decision to provide voiceover to what is otherwise an intriguing interpretation of the Star Trek television theme.
From its stylized cover art through to its mix of originals, fresh songs, and seasoned covers, Take Five is a banjo album that should appeal to those who don’t mind a little something else mixed in with their bluegrass. Ned Luberecki and his many friends should be rightly proud of their creation.