Stringworks is the newest release from Kristin Scott Benson, four-time winner of the IBMA Instrumental Performer of the Year Award for Banjo. As a member of the three-time Grammy-nominated group, the Grascals, Benson has proven herself a polished artisan of complex compositions.
The new solo project is a mosaic of original instrumentals that may be called progressive, and the classic driving Bluegrass style for which she has become known as a member of the multi-award winning Grascals.
The musical textures and song arrangements on Stringworks display new angles to the banjo instrument. Benson is joined by a who's who of award-winning players; Cody Kilby (guitar), Tim Surrett (bass), Jim VanCleve and Adam Haynes (fiddle), and husband, Wayne Benson (mandolin). Each of these top flight musicians brings polish and flavor to the project.
Q: Kristin, thanks for doing this interview with us. I have been listening to your new album "Stringworks" and my first impression is this gal loves her banjo. How did your love for the banjo start? And when you start playing the banjo?
I'm glad that sentiment came through on the album. Yes; I do love the banjo! I played mandolin, as a little girl, and heard bluegrass because of my dad and grandfather's influences. I was a lukewarm fan until I heard Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver at the Dahlonega GA Bluegrass Music Festival. They had a new sound that really excited me and the banjo, played by Scott Vestal, was my favorite part. I got a banjo when I was 13 and the interest has never gone away.
Q: Being a member of the Grascals, how does this new solo record differ or is the same as your work with the Grascals?
It's different on many levels. When I talked to Mickey Gamble and Tim Surrett, from Mountain Home, they felt strongly that this record should sound different than a Grascals project. They said there was no reason to do it, otherwise, and I agreed. The most obvious difference is that there are 6 instrumentals. You never have that many on a band album. Solo records oftentimes create configurations of musicians that have never previously performed together, so that is unique. Personally, the process is much different because instead on just playing the banjo, I was heading up each part of the process, from writing and choosing material, to scheduling and working with the label.
Q: Half the album contains instrumental tracks, while half features songs with vocals. Who are some of your special guest vocalists on the record?
Getting to choose the perfect singer for each song was a real privilege and I'm thankful these guys said yes. I have Claire Lynch, Chris Jones, Mickey Harris, Shawn Lane, Terry Eldridge & John Bryan from the Grascals, and a long-time friend from college, Grant Williams.
Q: Have you thought about singing some of your songs yourself?
I never want to sing lead, but was planning to sing harmony on a couple of songs. Of all things, I got jury duty and could NOT get out of it. Luckily, Mickey Harris has an incredible vocal range and was scheduled last because he was singing so much of the harmony, so he did the parts I was planning to do.
Q: One of my favorite songs on the record is Cheryl Wheeler's "When Fall Comes to New England." Why did you decide to cover this song?
As soon as I heard this song, I fell in love. A banjo student, Luke Smith, introduced me to it. I loved the imagery and have experienced many of the elements the song talks about. I also wanted to send a shoutout to all the NE bluegrass fans because sometimes, the genre seems so southern. There's a rich heritage and fan-base in that part of the country, so I was glad to feature a song that talked about their area. Immediately, Claire Lynch came to mind as the ideal vocalist and thankfully, she agreed to do it.
Q: Another song I really like is the Gospel cut "You Gotta Climb Over the Cross." Why did you include a Gospel song? And why this song?
Gospel music has always been a big part of bluegrass. Most albums have at least one and I included two on Stringworks. I love Becky Buller, who wrote this, along with Guy Stevenson, and was happy to record one of her songs. I thought the melody was catchy and Shawn Lane came to mind, right away. I'm a big Shawn/Blue Highway fan, so pairing him with this tune was a lot of fun. The 2nd gospel song, Till the Day Breaks, is last and reflects a faith statement that I really identify with. I thought it conveyed and emotional tone that was ideal to end the record.
Q: You have also written a few cuts on the records. Tell us a little bit more a couple of your new compositions.
I wrote 4 of the instrumentals. "Eagle Eye Annie" and "Travelers Rest" were written some time ago. "Fisher" and "Great Waterton," I specifically wrote for the album. I don't write a ton of tunes, but one of the greatest joys is taking something you've come up with and hearing what happens when you share it with super-talented musicians. The core band was Wayne Benson (mandolin), Cody Kilby (guitar), Tim Surrett (bass), Adam Haynes (fiddle) and Jim Van Cleve (fiddle). These guys are quite, simply amazing and getting to work with them is a real treat. They make every idea better.
Q: For our readers who would like to find out more about you and your music, where can they go?
From my website, www.ksbbanjo.com, they can find links to download the album, buy a copy straight from me, and follow the Grascals on Facebook.