Frails & Frolics:

Fiddle tunes from Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton & Elsewhere

on Clawhammer Banjo


Frails & Frolics includes over 45 tunes, most of them collected by Ken from traditional fiddlers on Prince Edward Island, arranged on banjo to reflect all their authentic flavor and nuance, and organized into sets (medleys). There are reel sets, jig sets, and “Scottish sets” – creating a musical tapestry by combining different kinds of tunes with different tempos. There’s a special art to putting these sets together: each new tune needs to have a contrasting feel and offer a sense of expanding energy. 17 cuts featuring 47 tunes; comes with an 8pp. booklet offering an introduction by Ken , historical notes on all the tunes, plus keys, modes and – for banjo players – tuning information.

Also worthy of mention. It’s pretty safe to say that most of these tunes have never before been successfully played on 5-string banjo (and very likely this is the first appearance for some tunes on a “commercial” recording). Several sets of tunes involve one or more key changes (always a challenge in clawhammer where the usual practice is to retune for each separate key), and a few sets explore tunes “on the flats” (in the flat keys) without resorting to a capo. A few tune arrangements, or “settings” range about as far up the neck as you’ll hear clawhammer go, and I continue my exploration of 6/8 time (no less than three sets of really cool jigs!).

Some musical samples are available through links inserted into the playlist.

About the title. Frails & Frolics is primarily a whimsical phrase, but it does aptly describe the project. “Frailing” is an alternative name for clawhammer, and in fact was the most common name for the style when I first became aware of it in the 1960s. “Frolic” is the once widespread name for an occasion where the community gathers for an activity – harvesting, wood-cutting, barn-raising; then in the evening there’s a big supper and square or contra dance, with music provided by local fiddlers.

Here are Highlights from the First Reviews of Frails & Frolics

Click to obtain a copy.


{Click on Highlighted Text to Access Musical Samples}

1-Londonderry Hornpipe / Jenny Dang the Weaver / Sleepy Maggie

2-Dr. Keith Strathspey / Miss Barker’s Hornpipe / Carney’s Canter

3-Omar Cheverie’s Jig / Fig for a Kiss / Hector MacDonald’s Jig

4-Pride of the Ball / MacKinnon’s Rant / Lasses of Glenalladale / St. Kilda Wedding

5-Bonniest Lass in A’ the World / Emil Gaudet’s Reel / Chetticamp Reel

6-Dallas Rag

7-North Side of the Grampians / Jack Webster’s Reel / Souris Breakwater

8-Rose of Tennessee / Don’t Be Teasing / Whiskey Jig

9-Carlton County Breakdown / Miller’s Reel /Trip to Windsor

10-Where the North River Flows

11-The Marchioness of Tullibardine / Dinky’s Reel/ Little Donald in the Pigpen

12-Hector’s New Dance Hall / Hector’s Fancy / Durang’s Hornpipe

13-Fred Wilson’s Hornpipe / High Level Hornpipe

 14Ottawa Valley Reel / Lad O’beirne’s / Marie à Pierre

15-The Bonny Lea Rig / Shores of Loughgowna / Teviot Bridge

16-Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase

17-George V’s Army / Mr. Murray Strathspey / The Marquis of Huntley / Prince Edward Island Wedding Reel

Some Early Reviews of Frails & Frolics

The appearance of a new CD by Ken Perlman is inevitably an important event in the banjo universe. . . The vast majority of 5-string players couldn’t begin to handle this challenging repertoire. Consequently, it’s amazing that Ken, wielding a 5-string in clawhammer style, can absolutely nail all those scales, arpeggios, trills, intricate phrases, and challenging dance rhythms. . . . This album presents a terrific selection of a wide variety of tunes. The [tunes] that are combined into medleys are very well selected and, taken together, they develop and hold your attention like a finely-crafted novel. . . Ken has outdone himself with this lovely collection of brilliantly played tunes from a vibrant center of Celtic music located right here in the Western Hemisphere. And Ken has given us an object lesson in the tremendous versatility and agility of the clawhammer style. I strongly recommend this album for clawhammer players and fans of Celtic dance music. (Banjo Newsletter)

Listening to Ken Perlman fly through a set of dance tunes provides a masterclass on the melodic possibilities not often explored on the five-string banjo. The tunes showcase Perlman’s immaculate playing style. It’s truly a marvel how he can manage to sound all notes of a fiddle. His triplets and trills are masterful. . .  Perlman is accompanied by Janine Randall on piano on various tracks; there is something delightful in the interplay between Perlman’s banjo and Randall’s piano in this particular style of music. The banjo-piano duets are playful and airy . . . The album is nicely sequenced, varying tempos to provide, dare I say, a frolicking aural experience. Perlman’s tune selection and execution are impeccable, [and] each listen seems to illicit new surprises. Perlman’s masterful banjo picking never ceases to amaze. (Glory Beaming Banjo [Blog])

Ken’s playing is inspiring almost to the point of impossibility. Being a clawhammer player myself, his dedication is obvious and successful. One can appreciate, by listening, the amount of time and effort in collecting, arranging, and performing these tunes. You can hear the influence of the great fiddle players in his playing, while at the same time respecting their origins and tradition. (Bluegrass Ireland Blog)