Art Rosenbaum: Field Recordings to Banjo Pickings

Art Rosenbaum: Field Recordings to Banjo Pickings


Excavating disparate parts of American history has fallen into the hands of a wealth of individuals. Folks dedicate tremendous portions of their lives to a specific strain of art, music, literature or history. Or some combination of those things. When all of those things exist, it’s culture. So, for anyone capable of capturing and distilling ideas like these, their resultant work is going to wind up – at some point – serving as a foundation for research off in the future.

Art Rosenbaum doesn’t sound like a name inextricably linked to the propagation of the banjo and its various styles. But to a certain extent, that’s what Rosenbaum’s name is going to be associated with. Of course, his various other interests supplement and enlarge his love of the banjo. The recordings he’s made, though function as his legacy.

Even after having written a guide to the five string banjo and teaching art at a number of colleges across the country, the filed recordings Rosenbaum’s collected serve as the base from which Dust to Digital created the Art of Field Recording in two volumes. To a certain extent, the albums are extensions of Harry Smith’s work and that of the Smithsonian. Whatever the relation, deepening the well we have to draw from isn’t a bad proposition.

It’s funny, though, that Rosenbaum’s recordings of himself on banjo haven’t remained as continuously touted in the same way his other works have. Of course, his voice isn’t the most welcoming sound when paired with his banjo, but that’s a small point of contention.

Folk music isn’t concerned with the most beautiful ways of transmitting stories – although, that’s a bonus. Instead music of this ilk serves as a structure by which ideas, stories and myth can be transmitted to later generations. So, in a few ways, Rosenbaum’s field recordings and his own recorded work should be seen in the same light.

More likely than not the Georgia dwelling archivist would dispute that seeing as the mode of collecting each is drastically different, but the end results are the same.

Five String Banjo, though, is probably as rare as the field recordings Rosenbaum’s amassed over time. Again, no one’s going to hunt down this album to hear the vocals. But during some works – “Medley” – everything falls away and the musical complexity jives with its simplicity of intent allowing for nothing other than enjoyment. Some times music doesn’t need to be historicized to be enjoyed. This is one of them.