July-August 2007





by Monika White

Bob Webb's album, Full Circle: The Solo Banjo Sessions means a lot to those of us who have been waiting many years for a recording of just Bob and the banjo. In the late 1970s, Webb abandoned old time banjo tunes for maritime music and Los Angeles for British Columbia and later Maine where he still resides. So, to have him back with this amazing album of old time banjo tunes is truly welcome since he is one of the finest clawhammer players in the country. The more you listen to his playing, the more you will appreciate his talent and mastery of the instrument.

Bob Web photo by Helen Richmond Webb

In the album notes Webb states that this is a "live" recording with no "studio magic." Instead says Webb, "the music is what you might hear when I play the banjo at home after supper". Any fan of old time banjo playing and old time tunes will definitely want to bring this album home. It's an incredibly diverse collection of 21 tunes utilizing seven tunings and six different banjos. Two tunes include a soft, tasteful guitar accompaniment Vocals and instrumentals range from songs sung in a low, lazy style to the lively, entertaining, toe-tapping music many of us sing and play at jams and festivals.

Non-musicians will enjoy Webb's music because it invokes front porch, back woods, down home, barn dance feelings characteristic of its roots. For the musician-especially old-time banjo players-his ability to combine strong melody lines, wonderful drop thumb fills, and the gentle tic, tic of the beat into a multi-layered sound will both intimidate and inspire.

The album features an interesting array of songs and tunes. Three tunes written by Webb are included. Meggie (a friend's cat) and Sleepy Margaret (a lullaby for Webb's daughter) are nice, but the most interesting is Fast-moving Cloud because of its timing and drive. It sticks with you and pops into your head throughout the day-a sure sign of a good tune. He doesn't totally get away from his other musical love, sea shanties. Listen to When Johnny Comes Down to Hilo, The Unfortunate Tailor and Lady Carlisle, and you'll hear the storytelling, so common to the genre. By the way, it's worth listening to the words on Lady Carlisle because the story is very engaging. However, for me vintage Bob Webb can best be heard on pieces like Nine Hundred Miles, Sally in the Garden, Charleston, Policeman and Last Chance.

You'll have to go to his website to get the tunings used on the album but as Webb explains, the tunings are simply the relative intervals between notes and not necessarily on pitch. You are in for some surprises on the keys and won't be able to play along without some creative use of your capo. The website also contains historical facts about banjos and tunings and interesting background information on Bob. It's also where you can order Full Circle: The Solo Banjo Sessions.

Was it worth the wait? Yes and, hopefully, we won't have to wait another 30 years for volume two.

Monika White, a sometimes banjo player, is proud to say she was Bob Webb's student 30 years ago and happy to say that they are still friends.