Fiddler Kenny Baker (1926-2011) worked with bluegrass bandleader Bill Monroe from 1957-84, with numerous side projects and a long partnership with dobro player Josh Graves. Baker set a benchmark for American bluegrass fiddling, and added a smooth, elegant counterpoint to Monroe's intense, sometimes staccato "high lonesome" style. Here's a quick look at his work...
Kenny Baker "Master Fiddler" (County, 1994)
A collection of some of his best work on the County label.
Kenny Baker & Joe Greene "High Country" (County, 1967) (LP)
Kenny Baker "Portrait Of A Bluegrass Fiddler" (County, 1969) (LP)
Kenny Baker "A Baker's Dozen" (County, 1971)
A dazzling all-instrumental set featuring fiddler Kenny Baker (a long-time collaborator with Bill Monroe) and an able quartet of sidemen, including bassist Harry Shelor, guitarist John Kaparakis, Butch Robins on banjo and a young Sam ("Sammy") Bush, on mandolin, in what was only the second full-album recording session of his career (!) As ever, Baker is a marvel, building off of an indisputably traditional foundation, and injecting a unique livliness and sparkle that sets his work apart from countless other traditionally-oriented fiddle albums. His work isn't explicitly jazz-oriented, but the influence is there, with a bright, full tone and modern melodic approach. This is pretty spectacular playing, but it's enjoyable not just as a piece of technical virtuosity, but also as a really lovely set of music. Highly recommended!
Kenny Baker & Josh Graves "The Puritan Sessions" (Rebel, 1989)
A lovely reissue of two albums originally recorded for the Puritan record label, Something Different, from 1972, and 1973's Bucktime, pairing fiddler Kenny Baker up with dobro guru Josh Graves. These sessions are notable not only for the fluid, sympathetic interplay between two mellow-minded old-timers, but also for the chance to hear Baker playing guitar -- which he had to stop doing after an accident in 1977 that damaged the nerves in his left hand. And lemme tell you: it sure sounds sweet! A great mix of songs and rather adventurous instrumentals... well worth tracking this disc down!
Kenny Baker "Frost On The Pumpkin" (County, 1976)
A welcome reissue of one of the great bluegrass instrumental albums of all time... Featuring the venerable fiddler Kenny Baker, a longtime pal of Bill Monroe's, backed up by a small set of superpickers able to follow his lead on these ingenious tunes. Baker's sense of melody and sweetness as saws around the beats on these tunes is really remarkable -- few fiddlers can sound so old-fashioned and yet so fluid and inventive at the same time. This is some real pretty playing. Highly recommended.
Kenny Baker & Bill Monroe "Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe" (County, 1977)
Kenny Baker "Farmyard Swing" (County, 1979) (LP)
(Produced by Bruce Nemerov & Butch Robins)
A delightful, delicious album with sprightly, uptempo fiddling and some sweet licks... The Osborne Brothers provide backing, with additional banjo by Butch Robins and Bobby's son, Wynn Orborne, and some fine duet fiddling by Blaine Sprouse on "My Old Kentucky Home" and the title track. This is one of those great, comfortable albums of smooth performances by confident musical veterans. A nice meeting place between some bluegrass elders and trad-minded young'uns who are in the swing of things. Highly recommended!
Kenny Baker & Bobby Hicks "Darkness On The Delta" (Rebel/County, 1980)
Swell fiddle duets by two of the best bow-stretchers in the business... This is one of Hicks's strongest albums ever, while Kenny Baker remains a force of nature. If you like sweet, fancy fiddlin', you'll want to check this one out!
Kenny Baker "Cotton Baggin' 2000" (OMS, 2000)
Bluegrass/old-timey fiddler Kenny Baker is no spring chicken, but he still can saw with the best of them. This was his first album in many a moon, and it shows him still in top form, playing sweet, sweet licks, with Bobby Osborne, Jesse McReynolds, Josh Graves and others backing him up, and Blaine Sprouse playing a fine twin fiddle behind him. Pretty nice stuff.
Kenny Baker "Spider Bit The Baby" (OMS, 2002)
Another fine set by this soulful old-timer. As with most all-instrumental fiddle records, you have to be a real fan to appreciate a whole record of this stuff, but for those who are down with the program, this is a nice album. Baker plays both sweet and hot, and has a deft melodic twist that will make your ears perk up on tune after tune.
Hick Music Index