Reviews

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Reviewed in This Issue

Always Been a Rambler —featuring The New Lost City Ramblers (a film by Yasha Aginsky).
Orders: http://www.arhoolie.com/titles/204dvd.shtml

This is a film you’ll watch over and over and invite friends in to share. It’s new and honors the old: old time songs and tunes, with the Ramblers’ expert presentations. Starring in the folk revival of the 1960s and going on for 50 years, John Cohen, Mike Seeger, and Tracy Schwarz (early on including Tom Paley) gave us the best of this musical heritage. And you can join them here!

According to Bob Dylan, “One of the things that the New Lost City Ramblers did was uncover great old songs that you could only find in those days in piles of 78s in somebody’s barn. They breathed life into those songs, and their records stand the test of time, just like the originals.”

More than just listening to old records, the Ramblers went to the sources. They visited, interviewed and studied with masters of old time music such as Clarence Ashley, Maybelle and Sara Carter, Roscoe Holcomb, Doc Watson, David Grisman, Elizabeth Cotten, Ricky Skaggs, Pete Seeger and others. Many of these contacts are included in the film. As claimed, this is “a treasure trove of recently filmed and rare archival footage, photos and music”, including many songs and performances by the Ramblers and others which, owning the film, you can enjoy when, how and as often as you choose.

Produced by Chris Strachwitz, Suzy Thompson and Tom Diamant, these 58 minutes (plus a bonus of 24 minutes with eight additional songs and never-before-seen footage including two songs with Tom Paley) give the uplifting and joyous history of The New Lost City Ramblers to gladden your heart, bring joy to your ears and maybe even tears to your eyes. Highest possible recommendation.

—Faith Petric

The West County Professional Tea Sippers Old-Time String Band , The Kettle Is On
CD info and samples: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/teasippers

The Tea Sippers are: Laura Lind, vocals, songwriting, autoharp; Searle Whitney, vocals, songwriting, fiddle; David Brown, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, vocal; and Dave Krinkel, guitar, Dobro, and silence.

These are local folks, at least two affiliated with SFFMC, living in the towns of Sebastopol and Berkeley. Their advice is “When you find yourself in hot water, try adding tea.” A full-strength tea bag accompanied the demo CD.

Some of the reasons I enjoy this CD so much are: 1) I can understand every word: clear diction, and no instrumental blasts that overpower the story being told. 2) The group clearly enjoys what they’re doing; I strongly sense that they had fun making both instrumental and vocal arrangements. 3) I really enjoy traditional “mountain” music played and sung well.

Of the 17 versatile offerings on this CD, six are original, properly in the old time style, four by Laura who also handles most lead vocals. Old time offerings include “Bury Me Beneath the Willow” and “Bear Creek Blues” as sung by the Carter Family, “Old Molly Hare”, “Sioux City Sue” and other old and not-so-old delights.

Although the Tea Sippers are lining up a good number of local gigs, don’t wait for them to come to the venue nearest you. Go ahead, get the CD, and enjoy their music now.

—Faith Petric

Sheila Kay Adams, My Old True Love (Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2004). Orders: http://www.workman.com/products/9781565124073/

Many adjectives can describe this novel: haunting, poetic, beautiful, heart-rending; perhaps the one that best touches the many aspects and meanings of this narrative is “musical”.

One of America’s finest storytellers and traditional ballad singers, Sheila Kay Adams has also earned a reputation as a true wordsmith. A bearer and preserver of ballad and storytelling traditions that have existed in her area since the mid-1700s, Ms. Adams is uniquely qualified to re-tell a narrative so rich and colorful in both words and music, while at the same time offering a down-home approach as folksy as the North Carolina mountains where her ancestors settled.

The novel covers a period from the mid-1840s until after the Civil War, following the history of Ms. Adams’ own family in and around her home community of Sodom, in Madison County, Western North Carolina. Ms. Adams uses her ancestor Arty Norton to narrate the true-life tale of cousins Larkin Stanton (who the teller says learned to sing before he ever learned to speak) and Hackley Stanton (the teller’s brother). Their rivalry was central to both their lives, extending to singing, women, and everything in between. Many voices speak in the narrative, including the singers of Sodom past and present, and their ballads and songs are liberally sprinkled throughout this book. The family’s saga comes to full life and breadth against the backdrop of the momentous and often horrific events of the Civil War, which thrust into their lives with deadly and somber consequences. Many emotions and images roll across the pages: joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, the spirit of the ballad-maker’s art and the ever present-touch of life and death. But what comes across again and again is an authentic feeling of tradition and continuity as rich and deep as the very southern soil upon which this story occurred.

This is truly living history that can never be found within the pages of a conventional textbook. Ms. Adams has given us a memorable verbal portrait that feeds the ear, the heart, the soul, and the very meaning of verbal magic and poetry, and we all are the better for it in the end. Music, story and history all come to life, and the results are wondrous indeed.

—Robert Rodriquez

Moving Hearts, Live in Dublin CD info & samples:
http://compassrecords.com/album.php?id=696

They’re back. Moving Hearts, probably the most high-energy and eclectic Irish group of them all, has re-grouped and put out an album will set your pants on fireā€”and isn’t that just what we’re all living for? Everything one expects from a Moving Hearts album is here: the dance tunes roll with peals of thunder, the slow tunes are like honey melting on toast. Always an adventuresome group, Moving Hearts doesn’t know the phrase “you can’t do it that way.”

I was especially taken by Keith Donald’s brief turn on the bass clarinet. Why is it that clarinet is so seldom used in Irish music? On the rare occasions I’ve heard it done, the bird-chirp tones of the clarinet seemed ideally suited to the Irish melodies.

This is an all-instrumental line-up for Moving Hearts, and I find that regrettable. In the past they’ve carried some wonderful singers, and I think the human voice would add yet another dimension to the richly textured sound of the band heard here.

Almost all of the tunes were written by members of the group, which is both good and bad. It’s important to create new material and keep the tradition growing, and not everyone can do it, but it leads to a kind of weariness. Good music (maybe good anything) depends on a balance of old and new: just enough old to help you get your bearings and just enough new to keep your interest piqued. With only a few familiar melodies, and most of them bunched together at the beginning, I found myself getting lost in a sea of newness. That may say as much about me as about the group. In any case I won’t let it keep me from going back in for another dip.

—Ed Silberman