It's somewhat surprising that, despite being fraught with violence and emotional tension, John Boorman's 1972 Deliverance is best remembered for the image of a creepy inbred kid with a banjo and the simple melodic opening of "Dueling Banjos," the song made famous by the scene. Naming a record of solo banjo Deliverance 25 years later is something Paul Metzger couldn't have done unawares, but while the album's title might contain a nod to backwoods American folk tradition, its music taps into something more exotic.
Metzger makes use of a rustic, roughly hewn Americana, to be sure, but Deliverance echoes just as frequently Indian ragas and other Eastern music traditions. The net effect is that of familiar sounds arranged in unfamiliar ways, a meditative strain that straddles genres effortlessly, in the end Metzger's music comes off naturally enough that attention is diverted from the specifics of his stylistic modes, with the music itself the focus. Many musicians can make music from a grab bag of influences, but it takes something more to do so in such a way that the conceptual act is overshadowed by the performance, and Metzger has done just that. Deliverance moves from meditative to fiery with ease, and it's this fluidity of intensity that is one of the album's best traits. And while, such as on opener "Orans," the soft to loud, slow to fast progression can be predictable, the spirit with which Metzger plays renders any such concern feeling superficial, at best.
It isn't surprising that his banjo doesn't sound like what we expect, given that it looks like a mutant of its traditional form, modified heavily by Metzger to create a 21-string monster, sometimes bowed, sometimes plucked, that makes use of sympathetic drone strings a la some manner of alien sitar. But the novelty of his instrument isn't Metzger's primary appeal. In the end, it's the pathos of Deliverance that is at the album's core: the beauty of whirling melodies; the feverish successions of notes, climbing ever higher; and, ever present, the impassioned spirit that imbues it all. That a solo banjo record would be one of 2007's best was a bit of a surprise, but Paul Metzger has proven himself rather adept, to say the least, at thwarting expectations.