With the growing No Depression movement reviving country rock from coast-to-coast, "The North Carolina Banjo Collection" is a welcome lesson on one of history's oldest instruments -- complete with scholarly liner notes and photographs. The 42 songs chronicle the Southern state's most prominent pickers, who play waltzes, backwoods ditties, spirituals, country blues and old slave songs. Sparse solo instrumentals alternate with full country bands complete with fiddle, piano and guitar.
Scotty Wiseman's "Sugar Babe" features bluegrass harmonies and clawhammering -- a banjo picking style originated by slaves -- while Doc Watson's smooth baritone and nimble fingering graces "Reuben's Train." Although listening to two hours of banjo-oriented songs can be intimidating, this collection should serve as a reminder to fans of alt-country bands like Son Volt and Wilco of North Carolina's prodigious contribution to American music.