I first became of aware of Hank Sapoznik through the 1977 Kicking Mule anthology "Melodic Clawhammer Banjo," a record on which he and other fine players opened up my ears to the possibilities of old-time and Celtic music on the 5-string banjo. Sapoznik was one of many young musicians from up north who traveled to the southern Appalachians to study with old-time fiddlers and banjo players there. In a life-altering exchange with Tommy Jarrell, the Blue Ridge fiddle master asked Sapoznik, who is Jewish and the son of a world famous Brooklyn cantor, "Don't you people got none of your own music?"
This led Sapzonik to research and then spearhead the revival of Klezmer, which he learned to play on tenor banjo in a style he later discovered matched that of the old recordings he archived. After recording some forty-odd Klezmer albums, Sapoznik, now in his mid-sixties, has returned to American roots music with "Banjew," collection of old-time fiddle music, ragtime, early Tin Pan Alley, and yes, even one Klezmer tune featuring the incomparable Andy Statman on mandolin.
The disc opens with "Baltimore Fire," a Charlie Poole song about the 1904 conflagration that consumed a third of the city. Hank's vocals have twang and resonance, and his banjo playing is top notch as you'd expect. Trip Henderson provides harmonica backing along with fellow Brookynite Alan Kaufman on fiddle.
"Are You From Dixie'" is a an 1915 Tin Pan Alley song about a southerner recognizing a fellow Dixielander from his accent which Sapoznik sings with his usual bonhomie. On "Mississippi Sawyer," he struts his clawhammer banjo chops on the fiddle chestnut, and takes a frailing excursion into bluegrass with Bill Monroe's breakdown "Gold Rush."
There is also a solo banjo rag, an Appalachian ballad, and even the Irish harp tune "Sheebeg and Sheemore."
You'll definitely want to buy this fine CD-after all, having taken Tommy Jarrell's question to heart, there's no telling when Hank Sapoznik will be back this way.