Review of "Fit of Clarity" in January 2013 issue of Banjo Newsletter

   By Ian Perry



Much of the New Acoustic music that has been recorded over the years by such artists as David Grisman, Tony Rice and Mark O’Connor, just to name a few, has omitted the banjo. While each of these musicians would undoubtedly have their own reasons for choosing to forgo the sound of the 5-string, I expect the desire to have to avoid having their music labeled “bluegrass” and the danger that the sound of the banjo would blur that line is at least part of the reason behind these decisions. Since David Grisman introduced his banjo-less Dawg music in the seventies, great strides have been made by players like Bela Fleck, Alison Brown and more recently Noam Pikelny and Chris Pandolfi, along with a host of others, toward showing that the banjo is capable of the softer, jazzier and less bluegrassy sounds that these other forms of acoustic music have developed.

          With the 2012 release of his CD, “Fit of Clarity,” Mark Raborn does his part to show that the 5-string is capable of making a meaningful contribution to the ever growing body of jazz-based new-acoustic music. With gypsy jazz flavoured tunes like The Village Witch, Thistlewaite and the title tune, the solo sojourns Opus 56 and Sour Spring Trail and laid back pieces such as Evening Shade and Jenlee,  Raborn creates a broad range of soundscapes and shows the possibilities of the banjo as heard through an ever changing kaleidoscope of sonic changes and musical designs. He makes good use of all three major techniques, rolls, melodic and single string, with the main focus on a melodic style approach. There are also plenty of modern, post-Scruggs roll patterns employed throughout his compositions, such as the Bela-esque MITI roll and the inside-outside roll found in measures 8, 9 and 10 of Fit of Clarity (see tab). Throughout the recording, Raborn’s attention to timing and tone reflect the years he has invested in becoming an experienced, well-seasoned player.


            Mark began playing banjo in 1971. By 1973 he was taking lessons from Johnny Wooten and around that time he also started entering banjo contests, at which point he first came into contact with James McKinney, who was to become one of Mark’s inspirations. By mid-1983, Mark was living in the Atlanta area where he met Al Smith, a guitar player who was heavily into New Acoustic music. Mark remembers jamming regularly with Al, working up many of the “Dawg” tunes from the classic Grisman albums, as well as pieces from Tony Rice’s recordings featuring his own style of ‘new acoustic’ music. “Al already knew much of the hot, jazzy ‘new’ music,” recalls Mark, “as well as the cool guitar chord voicings and progressions for the latest contemporary acoustic tunes.”

            In March 1984, Mark auditioned for James Monroe’s Midnight Ramblers. “During my audition, my playing was littered with melodic lines, jazz-inflections and lots of single-string babbling, which I considered ‘fancy stuff’: sure to impress even the most jaded bluegrass purist. However, after offering me the banjo position, James remarked with unimpressed candor:’ in a few weeks you won’t even recognize your own playing.’ He was correct.” Mark’s time with James Monroe gave him the opportunity to play with Bill Monroe and other legendary bluegrass players, giving him an authentic traditional bluegrass education to add to the more progressive playing he had done in the past.

            This expansion of Raborn’s musical horizons has no doubt added to the authenticity of the original music he has compiled on “Fit of Clarity.” Well-grounded and well-rounded, this is a recording that shows not only another side of the potential of the 5-string banjo, but also an intimate insight into Mark Raborn and the vast array of musical experiences that have shaped him into the musician he has become.

Review of Fit of Clarity by Banjo Newsletter-January 2013

By Ian Perry



Review by Inland Northwest Bluegrass Association

By Mitch Finley

Unless I’m missing something, it seems that among all the traditional bluegrass instruments there is more going on that you could call ground-breaking and outside the box among banjo players than all the others. These twelve tunes by Mark Raborn are a case in point, all surprising and delightful, some downright mind-bending. At the same time, it’s not difficult to hear the influence of traditional bluegrass banjo. Lovely, to be sure: all of’em!

July 4                                             noon                                     Solstice SL

July 6                                             10:00                                    Sheridan-Chesterfield

July 7                                              2:00                                      Garden Place-Milstadt

July 8                                              3:00                                      Sheridan-Creve Coeur

July 14                                            2:00                                      Bethesda Southgate

July 15                                            10:00                                     Carlinville

July 16                                            6:30                                       Villa Rose

July 17                                             3:00                                      Barathaven

July 21                                            2:00                                      Coulterville

July 22                                           2:00                                      South County

July 24                                           2:00                                      Cedarhurst-Edwardsville

July 25                                           noon                                     Meridian Village

August 3                                        10:00                                   Sheridan of Chesterfield

August 4                                        2:30                                      Richmond Terrace

August 14                                      2:30                                       Mt Carmel

August 17                                      10:00                                     Carlinville

August 19                                      2:00                                      Coulterville

August 21                                      10:30                                     Mercy-Swansea

August 22                                     noon                                     Meridian Village

August 23                                     2:00                                       Delmar Gardens-Creve Coeur

August 27                                     2:00                                       Bethesda Hawthorne

September 7                                10:00                                     Sheridan--Chesterfield

September 9                               2:00                                       Garden Place-Milstadt

September 11                              2:00                                       Chesterfield Villas

September 16                             10:00                                     Carlinville

September 16                             3:00                                       Sheridan-Creve Coeur

September 17                              2:00                                       Coulterville                                                  

September 23                             3:00                                       Fountains of West County

September 25                             10:30                                     Mercy-Swansea

September 25                             3:00                                       Barathaven

September 26                            noon                                      Meridian Village

October 2                                    2:00                                       Autumn View Gardens

October 5                                    10:00                                     Sheridan

October 6                                    5:45                                        Mt Carmel

October 8                                    2:45                                        Tesson Heights

October 8                                    6:30                                        Villa Rose

October 9                                    3:00                                        St Agnes

October 20                                 2:00                                        Coulterville

October 21                                  2:00                                        South County

October 23                                 2:30                                         Cedarhurst-Bethalto

October 24                                 noon                                       Meridian Village

October 27                                 3:00                                        Carlinville

October 28                                 2:00                                        Liberty Village

November 2                              10:00                                       Sheridan of Chesterfield

November 3                               2:00                                        Garden Place-Milstadt

November 4                               3:00                                        Sheridan-Creve Coeur

November 4                               6:00                                        McKnight Place

November 5                               10:30                                       Westchester

November 16                             2:00                                         Coulterville

November 27                             10:30                                       Mercy-Swansea

November 28                            noon                                        Meridian Village

December 1                                5:45                                          Mt Carmel

December 4                               10:30                                        Mercy-Swansea

December 4                               2:30                                         Cedarhurst of Bethalto

December 7                               10:00                                       Sheridan of Chesterfield

December 15                             2:00                                         Coulterville

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