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CD Reviews: Two Many Banjos' 'Trouble in Paradise' and Coyote's 'Times of Drought'

Longtime readers of these pages know I'm not afraid to put all my support behind prolific Duluth musician Marc Gartman's myriad projects and recordings.

Longtime readers of these pages know I'm not afraid to put all my support behind prolific Duluth musician Marc Gartman's myriad projects and recordings.

That said, his two latest releases, Two Many Banjos' "Trouble in Paradise" and Coyote's "Times of Drought," completely blew me away.

Particularly noteworthy is the second batch of songs from Two Many Banjos (the bluegrass outfit he started with Trampled by Turtles' Dave Carroll).

Having summed up TMB's self-titled debut to be, more or less, only "workmanlike" compared to Gartman's earlier output -- to be fair, it would be hard for any musician to top the raw glory of the No Wait Wait and Gallows records -- I was surprised by the fact that "Trouble in Paradise" is everything its predecessor wasn't: refreshing, focused and 100 percent necessary.

While fans of the two chief songwriters will, expectedly, find much to love here, it's the group's new direction that will make TMB believers out of all of us -- and nowhere is this heard more prominently than on the unforgettable epic "Fathers and Sons." The track, and its lyrics about the plight of a family losing its farm and getting "swallowed whole," will haunt you to your core -- easily the most triumphant local recording to see release in months.

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Forget the sophomore slump; in a year that's already plum full of excellent local releases, this one sits very near the top.

And the debut of Coyote, Gartman's collaboration with beloved local singer/songwriter Jerree Small, fares nearly as well.

While it lacks a standout track like its TMB counterpart, "Times of Drought" is still a worthwhile spin -- though, be forewarned, as Gartman put it, it's very much a "mellower affair" than most of his other releases.

This isn't normally an issue, but the naked emotions laid out on its tracks, which were all reportedly inspired by Gillian Welch's "Time (The Revelator)" album, might make for some awkward moments if you put it on while you're drinking some beers with "the guys."

No, albums like this are best listened to alone ... or at least with someone you're comfortable enough to cry in front of.

Coyote and Two Many Banjos will both perform at this year's Homegrown Music Festival. Visit www.duluthhomegrown.com for show specifics.

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