Review of "Ridgetop Sessions" by Austin Chronicle
Ridgetop is the name of the central Austin neighborhood where this informal recordings was made. Situated on top of a ridge that at one time overlooked the whole of the city at it's northly most point, it's right in the path of Robert Mueller airport in the heart of central Austin today. Luckily, no planes flew over during this recording session
If the Bad Livers have effectively called it quits, as someone recently claimed is the case, then The Ridgetop Sessions is a quiet, sagacious way to go out -- particularly coming on the heels of their previous release, the loud, electric Blood and Mood.
Recorded almost entirely over the course of a single morning through a single microphone in the front room of Rubin's North Austin home, this session finds the Livers -- Rubin and Danny Barnes -- at their loosest and most comfortable. The two pick their way through a good batch of Barnes' originals as well as a few interesting covers. It begins with a brief foray into Sun Ra's "Interplanetary Music," which bubbles up from perfunctory free-form into a quickened banjo exercise, and winds down with a jaunt through Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk," which saunters right out of Don Stover's "Black Diamond." Between the bookend standards, there's plenty of banjo tunes, "Yearning" being a high point as it bounds along on the banjo with the dazzling, fluid ease that is Barnes' signature and legend in the making. The album ends with a hot double take of "Hell Broke Loose in Georgia/Old Folks' Shuffle," recorded live in 1994 and including original Liver Ralph White on fiddle.
The Bad Livers have added significant dimensions to the concept of banjo music over the course of their decade-long career, creating through influence an impressive legacy. The Ridgetop Sessions, if it is a swan song, certainly adds another one.
***.5 Stars, Austin Chronicle