Friday, July 6, 2018

Silverleaf Travolin Travel Mandolin

Luckily I was home this morning when my Travolin mandolin by Silverleaf Instruments arrived a day early!  The Travolin is a high quality travel mandolin made by Steve Hallee in Maine.  Mine is a custom 4-string left-handed version (normally they have 8-strings just like a regular mandolin).

For reasons unknown I woke up this morning wanting to learn the Monty Norman song Under the Mango Tree from the James Bond movie Dr. No.  When the Travolin was delivered I had just about gotten the tune of it so Under the Mango Tree was the first thing I played on the Travolin.  That islandy song seems well suited to this instrument.  Here's an overdubbed recording I made today with the Travolin as lead melody, my Romero tenor banjo for the chords, and a metal scraper on a metal patio table to "approximate" the sound of a snare drum.

This 4-string version of the Travolin is 20 inches long and 5.5 inches wide.  It has a scale length of about 13.25 inches.  It's the best feeling, sounding and playing travel mandolin I've had, and the most compact.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

T Banjo's Five Favorite Albums of 2018 - So Far

John Prine - Tree of Forgiveness
When John Prine puts out a new album chances are good it's going to mesh extremely well with his existing body of work, like a new chapter in an unfinished story.  Tree of Forgiveness sits on equal terms with John's best albums from the 70's, 80's, 90's, 2000's and 2010's.  Prine has given us a tremendous gift with this addition to his legacy.  Listening to Tree of Forgiveness is like a musical meditation.

Eamon O'Leary - All Souls
He may never be well known, but Eamon O'Leary is a musician's musician - someone who is just as likely to be playing in an Irish session as he is to be on stage at a folk festival.  On All Souls Eamon has fine-tuned his brand of self-penned melancholy ballads and distilled it into a near perfect ten song package.  There's a seductive edge to these songs.  O'Leary is a charmer and this a record to be listened to on a moonlit night with your lover, a couple bottles of wine and an illegal smile.

Jimi Tenor - Order of Nothingness
Spotify has been helping me hone in on the sound I'm looking for and now it probably knows what I'm going to like better than I do.  Jimi Tenor is one of those that popped up on my new release radar.  I started with the songs My Mind Will Travel and Quantum Connection.  Those made it to a summer playlist I've been putting together and primed my taste for this album of full-on trippy and soulful Euro funk jazz.

Gitkin - 5 Star Motel
I have no idea what this is.  I just like it.  The music is a global smorgasbord, reminiscent of Akira Satake, Laika and the Cosmonats or Khruangbin.  The grooves are heavy and the melodies are up front and catchy, just the way I like them.  This could just be some guy in his bedroom playing all the instruments.  I don't know.  The track Cancion Del Rey fits perfectly on a summer playlist, although really anything here could have made the cut.

The Congos and Pura Vida - Morning Star
I only recently became aware of the 1977 album Heart of the Congos, considered to be one of the best reggae albums of all time.  So it was good timing to find out that The Congos were teaming up with Belgian Rasta musician and producer Pura Vida to put out a new album called Morning Star.  I've probably listened to this album about ten times in the last week.  It's fresh and rootsy.  Nothing beats the falsetto vocals of Cedric Myton sprinkled throughout.


Monday, July 2, 2018

Lunenburg or Wolfville?

First time visitors to Nova Scotia may feel compelled, like I did, to drive 1,000+ miles and try and see as much of the maritime province as possible: the South Shore, the Bay of Fundy, the Northumberland Shore, Cape Breton, the Eastern Shore, the Halifax metro area, et cetera. Second time visitors are probably ready to focus on one or two places.  For me those two places would be Lunenburg and Wolfville.

Lunenburg is located on Nova Scotia's South Shore, about an hour and twenty minute drive from Halifax. The walkable town is positioned on a hillside overlooking a harbour and its main section is three or four parallel streets lined with bed and breakfasts, inns, local restaurants and shops.  For a small town of about 2,300 people, Lunenburg is rich in amenities designed to welcome and charm visitors.  Despite being touristy, there's also an element of lived-in authenticity that gives Lunenburg an edge over its more bland neighbor Mahone Bay.
With its location on the Lighthouse Route - the province's scenic drive along the South Shore - you're assured of meandering waterside roads whether you head east of Lunenburg toward Chester and Peggy's Cove or west toward LaHave, Petite Riviere and beyond.  The twisty coastal road between Hubbards and Mahone Bay might have been my favorite stretch in all of Nova Scotia.  There are many beaches nearby as well.  Three well known ones are Hirtle's Beach, Crescent Beach and Risser's Beach.

If you're looking for an even smaller seaside town that's a little bit closer to Halifax, consider Chester.  I only stopped in Chester for lunch but it made me wish that I had planned to spend at least one night there.  From Chester you can take a ferry to the Tancook Islands and spend a few hours exploring.

My other favorite place in Nova Scotia was Wolfville.  This college town is about an hour north of Halifax, making it very accessible to travelers.  While the town itself doesn't have the quintessential attractiveness and layout of Lunenburg, Wolfville does back up to the Bay of Fundy's Minas Basin where the world famous Nova Scotia tides go in and out every six hours.  From Wolfville it's a short drive to places like Evangeline Beach or Hall's Harbour where this phenomenon can really be observed.

Wolfville is smack dab in the middle of Nova Scotia's wine region - the Gaspereau Valley.  Several wineries are within a 30 minute drive and the wine is surprisingly good for somewhere so far north.  Perhaps because of the wine draw, Wolfville also has an elevated food scene.  Some of the best dining in the province outside of Halifax is located here.  Nearby Port William is also worth checking out for its food and drink.
Nova Scotia's Wine Region
Evangeline Beach, Cape Blomidon in distance
If you visited Wolfville just for the wine and food alone that would be enough, but there's also excellent hiking not far away.  Cape Split and Blomidon Provincial Park each offer very challenging rambles for the hiking enthusiast.  It's also very bike-friendly (as is Lunenburg).

Being a college town, Wolfville is not so tourist reliant, so there's a progressive buzz going on there year round, complete with bookstores, an arts scene, and an awareness of healthy living options.  The thinking seems to be that if the residents are happy, then the visitors are sure to be as well.