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For banjo player JIM MILLS, the 5-string instrument isn’t just a tool, it’s a passion. “I’m probably one of the biggest collectors in the country of original 5-string flathead Gibson banjos,” the four-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s “Banjo Player of the Year” title acknowledges. So when he began preparing for his third solo album, Hide Head Blues (2005), Mills decided it was time to showcase not just his talent, and not just the top-notch gang of players who have accompanied him on each of his previous albums, but his remarkable collection of instruments.

The disc is a loving tour de force that, like its predecessors, finds Mills and his colleagues tackling under-recorded gems from bluegrass masters, pre-bluegrass songs and fiddle tunes, and a pair of classics from country legend Merle Haggard. There’s even a genial reading of a signature tune from another Merle – Mills’ favorite, Merle Travis – that shows off his adept finger-picking on a custom-made electric guitar that captures the tone and power of the Country Music Hall of Famer’s own playing.