photo-Michael Stewart

THE BAKER BOYS        reviews

You hear the word “multi-talented” a lot in music circles, to the point where it stops meaning much. Then you meet somebody who truly is multi-talented -- somebody who can play two or three instruments proficiently, who sings, composes, harmonizes, sincerely projects a range of styles in a range of genres, and you think, “Maybe multi-talented really happens.” Then you find out he has a brother -- and you have to multiply multi-talented times two. That’s the Baker Boys.

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Jessie Baker taught himself the major chords at age eleven after receiving a ten dollar pawn shop guitar from his grandma. He soon branched out to his primary instrument, the banjo. Around the same time, nine-year old Taylor Baker started on mandolin because it fit his hands, and has since begun playing fiddle. Both Boys sing and have a natural ear for harmonies. After playing together only six weeks, Taylor and Jessie played on stage at a local festival. They took every first place prize they tried for in Indiana state competitions.

Home-schooled, the Baker Boys soon figured out that if they could get through their lessons without slacking, they’d have the rest of the day free to pick. They started winning awards and gaining attention wherever they went. Their father Rex and mother Anna were extremely supportive of their abilities, driving long distances to music events wherethe Boys could be heard and appreciated — and where they could win more ribbons. Anna, playing bass and contributing vocal harmonies, joined them, allowing the duo to expand their repertoire. Working with a band further increased the speed and flexibility of their styles. The Baker Boys band, led by Jessie, garnered a goodly share of first place prizes. Jessie also performs regularly with The Karl Shiflett and Big Country Show, proving his flexibility by switching from banjo to mandolin for that aggregation.

“I love real traditional bluegrass,” Jessie says. “The old stuff.” Taylor shares that enthusiasm, as well as an insatiable desire to learn many styles of music on the mandolin from Italian to jazz. The brothers demonstrate a special touch with gospel songs, having been raised in a religious family in the heartland of America. It’s clear that the Baker Boys have already mastered the basics and more from masters of their craft — Reno and Smiley, Red Allen, Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs.

On this production you’ll hear the Boys tackle everything from the high-strung drive of Ralph Stanley’s Hard Times to the rarified strains of Frank Wakefield’s Lonesome Weary Heart, all delivered with an enviable balance of spirit and decorum. Wakefield contributes a mandolin solo on the fast and furious opener, Air Mail Special. The Boys are also assisted by journeyman playersMichael Cleveland (fiddle), Audie Blaylock (rhythm guitar and percussion) and Barry Reid (bass) with contributions from Jordan Tice and Danny Knicely.

To gauge the true range and agility of this brother act, listen to the aggressive attack of Taylor’s mandolin on Roanoke, incorporating a stylish three-way trade-off on banjo, mandolin and fiddle that is simultaneously note-perfect and lightning fast. Flawless three-way vocal harmonies are a feature of the lonesome lament, My Baby’s Gone. Jessie’s edgy singing style is highlighted on Cold Grey Tomb of Stone and Talk of the Town. Taylor sings Silence or Tears with a grasp that is as somatically satisfying as his bracing tenor guitar solo on Midnight Special. The family who sings collaborates to good effect on The Family Who Prays.

The younger Baker demonstrates his ability to compose with the tradition-based sounds of Taylor’s Waltz, while older brother Jessie’s Tune is a complex, innovative composition that soars to new realms, held aloft by his expert banjo work, while remaining on the bluegrass road. The Bakers Boys have come a long way in
a short time, and have further to go and a long time to do it in. And that’s a promise.

Barbara Bamberger Scott

1. Air Mail Special on the Fly
2. Cold Grey Tomb of Stone
3. Roanoke
4. My Baby's Gone
5. Lonesome Weary Heart
6. Talk of the Town
7. Taylor's Waltz
8. Silence or Tears
9. The Family Who Prays
10. Hard Times
11. I Don't Believe You'd Do Me Wrong
12. Jessie's Tune
13. Polka on a Banjo
14. Midnight Special

JESSIE BAKER - banjo & vocals
TAYLOR BAKER - mandolin & vocals,
tenor guitar on “Midnight Special”
ANNA BAKER - vocals
AUDIE BLAYLOCK - rhythm guitar & percussion

FRANK WAKEFIELD - mandolin solo on
“Air Mail Special”
JORDAN TICE - lead guitar on
“I Don't Believe You'd Do Me Wrong”
DANNY KNICELY - lead guitar on “Jessie’s Tune”