The Old Time Herald Review by BOB BUCKINGHAM
This, the third release by Naiman and Coole, expands their vision of banjo music to include Irish tenor and bluegrass banjo with the help of friends Brian Taheny and Chris Quinn. As with their earlier work, tradition is a starting place for the musical adventure. Original material takes the instruments further a field and with the help of the aforementioned friends, they take the banjo to new places. Or at least feel thev do.
“There are solid interpretations of different styles of music and Brian Taheny's work really shines. Those familiar with Naiman and Coole will not be disappointed. They present some fine old tunes mixed with their trade mark originals through eight cuts turning in the level of banjo playing that their made their first two projects so popular with old time banjo players. Brian Taheny is the real find though. His medleys boil over with energy. His four cuts are fine listening.”
“Chris Quinn is a solid bluegrass banjo player who can hold his own. His Scruggs styled pieces are on the The most interesting cuts are those that feature the mixtures of styles like "Steam Powered Aero Plane" and "Banjo Shamanjo," actually a version of "Arkansas Traveler," where all the banjos get together to really mix it up. Through the fiddling and back‑up work is solid and tasteful Erynn Marshall turns in an especially nice job on the "Rose of the Mountain" medley, track 16.”
This is a nice cross‑section of Toronto, Canada banjo pickers. If this is any indication, banjo is a live and well in the north land. This project should please banjo players and fans of well played banjo music alike. You could call this a banjo feast.


From The Banjo Newsletter  - July 2003  Review by William H. Montague
 Banjo Special, 2003
 MerriweatherRecords, with Arnie,'Naiman, Brian Taheny, Chris Coole and Chris Quinn.
Anyone focusing intently on a particular banjo style often becomes blind to greatness in other styles. This can make us miss out on some really terrific music. And an album that can smoothly showcase great banjo playing in different styles can be hard to find. Here's a remedy for all that.
"Banjo Special" from Merriweather Records is a new release from north‑of the‑other‑border that effectively presents 17 cuts of clawhammer, bluegrass, and Irish tenor banjo playing. Having previously bought Arnie Naiman and Chris Coole's first releases, "5‑Strings Attached with No Backing " 1 and 2, I was intrigued when I heard of this project. Now that I've listened to it many times, I can heartily recommend "Banjo Special " both for those familiar with the instrument and those just becoming acquainted.
Chris and Arnie are from the Toronto area and both are masters of clawhammer, solid backup guitar players, as well as proficient composers. Joining them on this album are Brian Taheny, originally from Sligo Ireland, on Irish tenor banjo, and Chris Quinn playing bluegrass banjo.
Each artist on the album presents four tunes or medleys. Before you duck and cover, only the last cut, Banjo Shmanjo, features all four banjo players together! A remarkable job was done in the difficult job of arranging the sequence of cuts so that there are smooth ‑transitions from one musical style to another. For example, it would seem unlikely that a driving Bill Monroe bluegrass tune, Old Dangerfield, could be followed by a solo clawhammer version of Little Birdie, but it works.
Arnie Naiman, who produced the project, plays several of his own tunes here as well as traditional pieces. His compositions go well beyond traditional claw‑hammer banjo (or fiddle) tunes. While often melodically and structurally complex, they effectively convey emotion and sentiment. I am reminded of John Hartford's work. Arnie often uses very unusual phrasing that, at its simplest, can give the feeling of a crooked
tune within a perfectly straight structure. It's interesting to compare these most recent tunes to the much more traditionally structured pieces on the first "5Strings Attached" album. A larger palette with more colors is now used. While exploring the limits of melody and rhythm at one extreme, Arnie also plays traditional selections like the Santa Anna's Retreat medley that make you tap your foot, get out your banjo, and try to find the notes.
Chris Coole plays some of the cleanest, most melodically fluid and inspiring clawhammer one could hear. His '70s Tubaphone‑rimmed Vega has a wonderful bubbling tone perfectly suited to his driving style. On Cherokee Shuffle, he truly seems to be hammering the strings, as would a hammered dulcimer player.
I imagine the right hand bouncing right up off the strings! I particularly enjoy his Year of Jubilo/Turkey Sag medley played on a 1896 Fairbanks and Cole fretless in double C tuning tuned down :1, to f BbFBbC. To learn the tune I tuned to double C and then played the CD using The Amazing Slow Downer software by Roni Music and cranked the tune up two semi‑tones. Worked great.
I enjoy playing Irish tunes (on the ukulele!) at local contra dances, but our band's efforts are galaxies away from the masterful playing of Brian Taheny. This is the real thing‑traditional Irish dance music played flawlessly with drive. With Leon Taheny's bodhran providing infectious percussion, and Loretto Reid's tin whistle on a couple of tunes, Brian multi‑tracks tenor banjo, guitar, bazouki, cittern, mandolin, dobro, and fiddle. The result is impressive
and convincing. When I heard his medleys the first time, I thought it was a traditional Irish band playing. The banjo playing is amazingly smooth and precise no matter how complex the rhythm and melody. Sit down with headphones and your favorite beverage and enjoy.
Drive is an essential characteristic of traditional bluegrass banjo playing and Chris Quinn has it in spades. Chris is a rock solid Scruggs‑style player who throws in melodic constructs as needed and doesn't miss a note along the way. Anyone needing a clinic in rhythm and timing pay heed. His playing is clean and economical, yet inventive; it is mercifully free of the "watch what I can do" syndrome that effects a lot of players. On this album he plays two traditional bluegrass tunes plus an original piece. I particularly enjoyed his original tune Cold Tea. Like running down a toosteep hill, you just hang on for the ride.
Chris Quinn also plays a fabulous duet with Chris Coole on Steam Powered Aereo Plane, by John Hartford. The bluegrass and clawhammer styles complement each other beautifully‑like vanilla ice cream and fudge sauce.
I enjoy hearing two banjos played together in different styles, but personally find more banjos than two a dangerous proposition. The final cut, Banjo Shmanjo, includes all four banjoists and treads that no‑man's land. They manage to pull it off, but it does rather remind me of a class at banjo camp!
Mention has to be made of the other accompanying musicians on this album: Erynn Marshall and John Showman, fiddle, Joey Wright and Dan Whiteley mandolin, Marc Roy, guitar, Loretto Reid, tin whistle, Leon Taheny, bodhran and Dennis Pendrith, on acoustic bass. While this album showcases the banjo players, these other musicians provide exceptional backup and solo instrumentation. We should know people like these with which to play music!
"Banjo Special" includes thorough liner notes with musician biographies, banjo tunings, descriptions of instruments played, as well as notes on the songs. There are 17 cuts, with 62 minutes playing time. Available from Merriweather Records Ltd., 109 Crawford Rose Drive, Aurora, Ontario L4G 4SI Canada.
The following mini‑interview is based on e‑mails that Arnie Naiman and I exchanged as I was reviewing "Banjo Special." I wanted to learn a bit more about the album and the players.
William H. Montague: What was your goal or concept in putting together
Arnie Naiman: Three years ago, we arranged a concert in Toronto with the four of us demonstrating our different banjo styles. The concert, called "The Banjo Special, " was a surprising sellout success. We had such a good time, and got along so well together, we decided to try and make it an annual event. The next year we moved it to a bigger venue. Once again, we were overwhelmed and we sold out. Shortly after that experience, we agreed it would be a good idea to make a recording in time for the third annual Banjo Special. That concert took place on Feb 1st. 2003, with the release of this CD. It was an incredible evening of music all around. Part of our goal was to get folks to hear styles of music they would not normally listen to or perhaps have never heard before, and display some of our favorite banjo tunes and the music we love to play.
BNL: The sequence of the pieces is very effective. Did you work it out yourself, or was it a group endeavor?
AN: The project was very much a group effort. We thought it would be enough to record four tracks each, plus
one altogether to make up the CD. Once we did that, it was just matter of aligning them to change tempos and styles‑trying not to group them together. Chris Coole came up with the final sequence when we went to mastering, with all of us in agreement.
BNL: You mention in the liner notes that you wanted a banjo that sounded like Chris Coole's. I can understand why. How are your instruments set up?
AN: We both have fiberskin heads that are tight. The tone rings seems to give a nice sustain that way. We use medium/heavy gauges which allows for more of a mid range tone without a twangy harshness. 5th to Ist: .012, .026 bronze wound, .016, .012, .010. We both have No‑Knot tailpieces, and use Moon bridges, which help with intonation compromises. Our action is higher than average, and our string spacing on the bridge is wider than average. Chris Coole gets his nails professionally done for his index and second finger, and he gets a very clear hard note when striking his strings and I use my natural index nail, which at times is not very substantial, so I get a more subtle sound off the strings.
BNL: I hear unusual phrasing in your compositions. For example, phrases might not simply start on the first beat of measures, or end on the last beat. Comments?
AN: My tunes are based on my feeling for fiddle music, and you know that there are often lead ins to phrases and connecting notes to the different parts of fiddle tunes‑so I use some of these ideas naturally when I put my own tunes together. Some of my tunes have irregular measures within them or are crooked, as fiddlers like to call them. I like to play around with clawhammer movements that feel good‑some may be a little quirky but are fun to play, and hopefully sound good at the same time as well.
BNL: Your original pieces have become structurally and melodically more complex since your first album. Who has influenced your compositions?,
AN: Our first recording was done in 1997. It has a mixture of simple to complex. Since then I've listened to a lot of old time fiddle music that gradually became available on recordings. I just can't say who specifically has influenced my own banjo compositions, but I believe it's a combination of all those sounds and rhythms I take in from fiddle‑based music that magically comes out when I muck around with my banjo.
BNL: How did you meet Chris Quinn and Brian Taheny?
AN: Chris Quinn I first met waiting in line for a ferryboat at The Mariposa Folk Festival. Since then, we run into each other often within the bluegrass and folk music community in Toronto. I first saw Brian and his wife, Loretto, perform at a folk club. I was astonished at how competent and brilliant they both were at their craft‑Loretto on whistles and flute and Brian on fiddle, banjo, and dobro guitar backup that was powerful, clever, traditional, and yet fresh and innovative at the same time. I talked to them very briefly there, but it wasn't until our first Banjo Special concert that we really got acquainted with each other. The four of us have a very special connection in that we admire each other's musical abilities and aspirations -we have a great time together with our banjos.
Sing Out Review by Tom Drunkenmiller

Lookout! There's a banjo revival afoot! Never have there been so many fine players of all styles: tenor, clawharnmer or bluegrass, and expert builders to supply them with first quality instruments. The Banjo Special celebrates this revival. Canadian clawharnmer players Chris Coole and Arnie Naiman have teamed up with fellow Canadian bluegrass banjoist Chris Quinn and tenor banjoist Brian Taheny late of County Sligo but recently a Canadian transplant, to record this dandy collection of all things banjo.
Coole and Naiman have recorded two collections of banjo recordings as a duo and continue their great command of the instrument. Highlights include Chris Coole's rendition of "Little Birdie" from the playing of Reed Martin and Arnie's delicate "Heartbeat" an original modal tune dedicated to loved ones gone on. Highlights for the Scruggs enthusiast are Chris Quinn's take on Bill Monroe's "Old Dangerfield" and the traditional "Lonesome Road Blues" both done at breakneck speed.
Brian Taheny demonstrates his abilities on the tenor banjo, guitar and cittern on the quartet of tunes he names "Old Ring." It includes "Pull the Knife and Stick it Again/The Gold Ring/An Phis Flucht/The Mist Covered Mountain" and is played in the driving Sligo style.
Most interesting to me are the combinations of banjoists performing together. John Hartford's "Steam Powered Aereo Plane" features the two Chris' in a duet of bluegrass and clawhammer styles which works very well. The finale of the CD is a track titled "Banjo Shmanjo" which is a derangement of "Arkansas Traveler" with all four taking a chance on this old‑time classic. The results demonstrate just how well these four perform together.
The Banjo Special is just that, a very special banjo recording. Don't miss it. ‑ TD