Review by Dennis Stone




Release Date: AUGUST 2001

In March of this year, FolkWorks had the honor of hosting a great concert by Irish fiddler/guitarist Randal Bays who was accompanied by Irish bouzouki/guitarist Roger Landes. After the show Roger handed me his new CD to check out, but it sat around for weeks before I had a chance to sit down and listen. Finally, late one evening, I put on the headphones and those headphones remained glued to my head until the entire CD was finished. It’s always a challenge to find music that intrigues, moves, and inspires me. It is also a challenge to present my readers with rare gems of a quality that are hard to find but worth the effort to seek out. One of those rare gems, and the CD at hand is: The Janissary Stomp by Roger Landes & Chipper Thompson.

Roger Landes is from Jackson County, Missouri. He played roll-n-roll guitar in school garage bands, then took up classical guitar in 1979 in college, learning the repertoire quickly and soon teaching it full time. His interest shifted from 19th and 20th century compositions to early works from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, to European dance music of the middle ages. When he first heard the Chieftains playing traditional Irish music, he recognized the close similarity in melody and rhythm structures between medieval and modern traditional music. His instincts then led him to the 10-string cittern and eventually to the Irish bouzouki while learning the intricacies of Irish and Scottish dance tunes and accompaniments. In 1982, Roger helped form the popular Celtic group Scartaglen, which recorded three albums before they disbanded in 1994. In 1993, with Scartaglen, Roger contributed one track to the best-selling Narada collection, Celtic Odyssey, which stayed on the Billboard Magazine charts for almost two years. This CD brought Scartaglen, Roger, and fellow Scartaglen alumnus vocalist Connie Dover to greater public awareness and remains one of the best Celtic music compilations available. After the disbanding of Scartaglen, Roger and Connie Dover performed with the short-lived group Glenfire, and then as a duo since 1995. Roger has also lent his talents as producer for ex-Scartaglen member Michael Dugger and for Chris Crotewohl. He recorded his first solo album, Dragon Reels, independently in 1997. Now considered a pivotal Irish bouzouki release, it was re-released on the Dorian record label in 2001 to a nation wide market. Commenting on this album and the Irish bouzouki, Cliff McGann with the publication Celtic Heritage wrote: “Not only is Landes helping to legitimize the instrument, he is taking it to a whole new level…I am in awe of his command of the instrument.” Another of Landes’ projects is Zoukfest, an international festival devoted to the bouzouki. In 1999, Roger relocated from Missouri to Taos, New Mexico, where he has recorded with bouzouki player Gerald Trimble.  Roger is now considered a leader in bringing the Irish bouzouki from its role as an accompanying rhythm instrument to a lead and solo instrument.  

Chipper Thompson was born in Athens, Alabama, but grew up in the heart of the Tennessee Valley, which he calls “a microcosm of the Old South.” He took up electric bass guitar in college, and accompanied his father--a talented pedal-steel guitar, dobro, and dulcimer player--at bluegrass and dulcimer festivals. Always a lover of Appalachian folk music, with its Irish-Scots roots, his curiosity about the world led to his research in songwriting, global ethnic folk music, classical music, blues, and rock-n-roll. Chipper now plays guitar, bass, mandolin, bouzouki, dulcimer, banjo and several hand percussion instruments such as the bodhrán. After a variety of jobs and several months in Europe (where he spent many nights playing in traditional pub sessions on the west coast of Ireland), Chipper married and moved to northern New Mexico. Since then, Chipper has honed his songwriting and performance skills at small gigs and open mic sessions in Taos. In 1997 he formed his company, Banjosnake Music, and released his first CD, Strange Lullabies. In 1998, his second CD, Folk-n-Roll Live, followed in the footsteps of his first release with a diversity of folk, rockabilly, bluegrass, powerful emotional ballads, and vocals, plus eleven original pieces penned by Chipper. His latest CD, Am I Born To Die (recorded with his newest musical partner, singer and multi-instrumentalist Mason Brown) showcases his deepest roots: the traditional songs of Appalachia and their roots - ancient songs from the British Isles.

The Janissary Stomp was originally released in limited edition at Zoukfest 2001. It has a unique paper package with extensive and informative liner notes on each track. But even more unique is the music, a global ethnic folk, Appalachian folk, Celtic, and early music merging experience. And boy does it work! Both Roger and Chipper play only bouzouki on this CD, accompanied by Paddy League on percussion and Mason Brown on bass violin. Chipper lends his voice on two tracks. The CD title refers to the elite “shock troops” of the Ottoman Sultan, and was suggested by the intense, eastern tenor of the music they wrote for this project. But this CD is much more than that. The soundscapes heard will take you on an audio journey to Ireland, Scotland, Celtic Brittany, Mexico, medieval Spain, Europe of the middle ages, the Middle East, the Balkans, the Appalachians, and the sun soaked mountains and deserts of New Mexico. It is a beautiful celebration of our global folk heritages. Highlights are difficult as each track is a long story in itself. The entire package is a genuinely moving experience, but if I had to note stand-out tracks, they would be: Banks of the Nile with its Middle Eastern-like intro and ending (plus great vocal by Chipper), the merging of medieval Spain and early New Mexico on Los Penitentes that leads into the joyous, almost child-like Emergence. This track is followed by the medieval/Breton/Arabic/original set Lamento di Tristano/de Trilport/taqsim di Tristano/The Arrival of the Khevsoor in Tiblisi. The Burned Letters, written by Chipper about personal loss, is a sad and melancholy piece balanced by the following upbeat, sick and humorous The Guanajuato Mummies’ Farewell to Budapest and the equally humorous and Latin flavored tribute to a famous ragtime band called Quando Los Santos Entren Marchando. Roger’s arrangement of the Irish March of the King of Laois is enchanting, and equally mesmerizing is the Greco-Turkish flavored Los Dervisomangas followed by the Macedonian tune Jovano Jovanke. A rousing arrangement for bouzouki of Asturian and Galician dance tunes may be a first. Chipper’s Celto-Appalachian Whippersnapper Snake/Snake Road features his second vocal. The CD closes with two great instrumentals, the last being an Arabic-Mississippi Delta Blues-Celtic-Appalachian set called Taqsim“Tigrissippi/Threshold/The Janissary Stomp. All in all, The Janissary Stomp is a great album for those who embrace a successful merging of global folk music and styles that borrow from their modern and ancient forms. A very excellent merger, and another album of note for the bouzouki.

- Dennis Stone

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