2020 has been known as a chaotic year. We started with a rocky start: Covid19 hitting every country, being quarantined for over seven months, and going back again to more quarantined; a messy election process, and we still do not know how it will end. If you think that nothing good will come at the end of these last perilously days, prepared your favorite drink, sit back and listen to Banjo Bones (his real name is José L Espada) latest CD, Lucifer’s Hand.
Lucifer’s Hand is Banjo Bones’ safety rope to rescue our souls from those demons that have been following and torturing us for too long in 2020. This album is another example of how great composer, musician, and singer he is.
I remembered the first time I listened to Banjo Bones’ Cowboy Dreams, and started following his music path thru Ghastly Musings from the Delta, and then Faceless Man. Three albums that show you a musician that will take you to a music travel thru what he calls Dark Americana. I am under the impression that these previous releases were just teasers of what he had under his sleeve as a Chess player will do in an unexpected move to check mate.
He toyed with us thinking that his next release would be following the same tone and rhythm of his previous ones. I was so wrong. He played me well as a Chess Master will do in an International Tournament. Lucifer’s Hand is not your traditional CD or music from a burned-out musician, Banjo Bones has too many cards under his sleeve to surprise us.
Banjo Bones just took his musical skills to a new level with Lucifer’s Hand. So far, I have not seen any other Indie musician achieved melodically and emotionally what Banjo has done on this release. He just melted rhythm influences on all 10 songs contained in his latest release, and I was not able to see it. Well played!
After I finished listening to it the first time, and then going back to it to de-construct the harmonies and melodies, I felt that he just blew my senses in lyrics compositions to another dimension. By no means you should think that I have listened to all indie musicians. I have not, but of all of those musicians I followed and listened to, no one compose as deep or profound as Banjo Bones does.
On Lucifer’s Hand, as a concept, Banjo Bones showed a more polished and powerful composer. I bet that all of us thought that this album will be a less revolutionary release. But that is too far away from the truth. I think that Banjo Bones, as a former Marine, has drawn all the big guns toward us to make us aware how we have forgotten our purpose in this God Earthly World. I cannot opine negatively on this new release, since there is no song in this album that does not give me goosebumps. He just laid down, in front of us, our true nature: we are weaklings in our solitude moments. Before this huge Cosmos, Banjo Bones has shown thru this release our fragility and we should accept and embrace it because it is beautiful. Weakness should never be a negative trait, but a tool to improve ourselves and be better with our surroundings.
Every song on this album a new invitation to jump into our car and cross the road to understand our own psyche.
This CD has 10 songs, all composed by Banjo Bones. It is a palette full of country, folk, indie, Americana, Caribbean, and even Appalachian Bluegrass rhythm but with the unique flavor of a little taste or pinch of darkness, as Banjo Bones had us used to. After all, all of us have some kind of dark side beneath our skin, the problem is that we should need to squeeze and accept it.
Banjo Bones plays almost all the music instruments, as he has done in his previous releases. However, we see familiar a name, again, which is a pleasure to see him to be part of this new release: Giorgi Khokhobashvili, a Georgian (the country not the state) fiddler or violinist (pick your fave name) that embellishes Banjo Bones music with his remarkable skills on the violin. Other fellow musicians that participated on this new project were: on Piano was Phillip Howard on Walking on a Thin Line; and last but not least, Joseph Ybarra, who plays the steel guitar pedal. It would be amazing to see the four of them playing a live stream show.
When I tried to de-construct Banjo Bones’ lyrics, it took me to a spin of symbolism, metaphors and similes as used by The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Jim Croce, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, and many other great composers committed to bring value to our music industry. That is the key element that I look in a composer/singer in her/his lyrics nowadays. How well her/his concerns with our current personal/social/political/environmental affairs are expressed thru her/his music. Maybe I am getting too old, or maybe I am too conscious of how our leaders are taking us to a route of, maybe, no return. However, I need to be impressed. I need to see creativity and originality; I cannot stand the same melodies and topics that mass consumption media has us accustomed. Banjo Bones has given to music a new meaning thru his songs. Not even Bruce Springsteen, who I dearly respect, could push me to listen him over and over in two consecutive hours. If I were to define new social change music, Banjo Bones would fall under its definition.
The songs contained in this amazing CD that will take you to a different ride are:
The Way I Live – Unjustified – Worthless Sould – Lucifer’s Hand – Hardly Recognize – The Shallow River – Same Old Song – Good Intentions – Walking on a Thin Line
Let’s take the song cover of this album as an example of what I love and look forward in a musician. In this song, on Lucifer’s Hand, he undressed our morale and ethics. As a musician who was formerly educated in La Salle education system (nothing wrong with that) in his early years and teens, he invites us to questioned our principles which we were raised. Do not give anything for granted. As a Law Professor told me once, when I wrote a brief description of his book: we are heroes and foes in this life; it all depends which side you pick. This song describes perfectly the human nature and how we should make our best effort of not believing that everything is black or white; there are too many color shades in this wonderful palette known as Life.
The piano and guitar riffs are blissfully magnificent. The congas sound at the background with that unique Caribbean flavor was a fine brush of where Banjo Bones grew. For me, he made me remember where I came from and where my roots might be, even coming from a Celt family. But leaving to the side this ancestry of mine, how African roots music is embedded in our musical universe and we cannot avoid that fact. This affluent of sounds is evidence of a musician that has traveled too many places and, as a sponge, absorbed those rhythms to later incorporated them into his music. Like any boy next door will do when playing his guitar for the first time to impress the next-door girl or boy.
Banjo Bones took us with Hardly Recognize to that time when Country Music was mellow. This song is a travel to memory-lane when Country was trendy in the seventies, with that sorrow steel pedal guitar riffs masterfully played by J Ybarra.
Another of my favorite songs from is Worthless Soul. The character is looking to sell his soul to God and/or the Devil; but none of them show interest or pay attention to him. When Worthless Soul’s protagonist (written in First Person) states that: I sold my soul to the Devil, and the Devil gave it back, He said, son your soul is worthless, I want my money back…If I have to ask for forgiveness, I have a soul to sell. But God don’t want me in Heaven, and Devil’s don’t want me in Hell; I could err on the side that this is how record label treat musicians after they burned or exploit their creativity and image after creed has no more blood to suck from. These invisible forces are shown as spineless industry that, without any concern on musician’s psychological fragility, disposed of them as a worthless article of clothing. Let me be blunt to you about how I interpreted the symbolism behind these two powerful forces. These powerful forces (good and evil) are record labels, media industry, and any other industry who seeks exploitation on production and consumption. I called this Modern-Day Slavery.
That fine brush painting done in these lyrics is an example of how we, individually and collectively, are not valued by any entity that is looking into making a profit out of us That struggle with whom should we value, in this case by two extreme powers (good and bad), is an example of how we are influenced by a market that is interested in making a gain or profit from us. At the same time, we participated, as consumers in a market where people are exploited in order to make a few richer. These are the kind of lyrics that force you, if you pay attention, to do some introspect evaluation of you as an individual and your interaction with your surroundings. At least, that is what I get from this song. Nonetheless remember, the composer, as a painter, just want the audience to feel whatever they want and not want he felt at the moment. All of us are a unique universe within our neurons. Intuitively, Banjo Bones does not force you to follow his emotions, that is your own responsibility. Listen to this song and the rest of the album and pick which path you should follow. It all depends on you. You are responsible in determining to let Lucifer’s Hand be your guide into a dark path, or let him know that he has not seen a better one to go instead.
Going from track to track, I reminiscent when I was a teen. Who has not lied down on a bed walking thru those fainted memories and, sometimes, allow then to torment you? Who has not thought about what I should have done, or said, or feel, while fearful of being rejected? The Walking on a Thin Line is the last song that immerse you into a powerful line, being preceded by other songs that has taken you to a place that you already forgot or try to forget because of your own insecurities. Banjo Bones could not have picked a perfect song to warned his listeners to prepare for the ending of a ride that was full of well written and bursting symbolisms in all his others songs. Ergo, he ended this CD with a big bang.
I do not know how many people sit and close her/his eyes to go deep into lyrics. I did and still doing it. Do you remember when you were a teen and would read all the credits and description on the back of a cover LP or CD? This CD brings that fond memories of my childhood sitting on a couch and going thru those Banjo Bones, as a former Marine, dedicated this production to all past, present and future veterans and there is no better way to honor USA Armed Forces.
Overall, Banjo Bones’ Lucifer’s Hand is a CD or digital recording worth of purchasing and having in your collection. It is a great album and worth of being acknowledge by Media as a return to our own roots, where lyrics has some meaning. I assure you, once you get into Lucifer’s Hand, he will not let you go and will value your soul because you chose the right path for righteousness.