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  • Jonathan Widran


When I hear a band or artist whose vibe is so fresh, so unexpected and too wondrously all over the map transcendent to peg as a single genre, I like to use the term “joyful schizophrenia.” It’s the only way to convey the intensely dynamic, multi-cultural bevy of traditional folk, Americana, jazz, global fusion and a whole other kitchen sink of ear-tingling influences (you need to Google the “Gullah-Geechee” culture of the U.S. Low Country, too!) that inhabit NYC quintet Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches’s latest album Get Us Out of Fearland. The anthem-like lyrics by versatile lead singer and chief songwriter Betina Hershey truly speak to our times, urging us to “Get Out of Fearland” and grow strong and tall like the seemingly delicate “Dandelion” while affirming our value and what we can contribute to our own communities (“Needed Now”).

Yet all that poetry is couched in a raw, whimsical stroll into a sizzling gumbo of classic American art forms. “I Don’t Need No Glasses” is plucky, Charleston lite, driven by Hershey’s playful lead vocals and multi-instrumentalist bandleader Nick Russo on banjo. While “Dandelion” takes us to church via Russo’s organ, “Get Us Out of Fearland” is a fearless stomper, and “I Wish the World Knew Why” is a mournful front porch ballad. Other highlights are the opening track “Soar,” a lively, uplifting hoe-down of determination, and “A Hundred Miles,” a freewheeling, fiddle, banjo and vocal harmony driven train song that originated in the 1800’s. It’s probably the most unique 25 musical minutes you’ll enjoy all year!

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