Native Home Music
Little Black Train is a little trio with a broad reach. While planted mainly in old-time music, the inclusion of Irish fiddle tunes and the prominent presence of California bluegrass stalwart Kenny Blackwell on mandolin sets it apart from most revivalist string bands.
While it’s the singing of guitarist Stuart Mason (who also plays a mean clawhammer banjo) and the fiddling of John Weed that are placed front and center in the spare three-man ensemble, Blackwell’s mandolin is the glue that holds the music together, deftly spicing up “California Blues” and “Goodbye Booze” with his breaks and seamlessly weaving around Weed’s fiddle lines.
Otherwise, this train makes a lot of familiar if welcome stops, picking up the songs and tunes of Charlie Poole, Tommy Darrell, and Jimmie Rodgers, with refreshing detours to the likes of Reverend Gary Davis and the legendary Irish fiddler Michael Coleman. Weed’s fiddle has spirit and drive, even if his approach to Irish tunes still sounds more Appalachian-style, perhaps intentionally. Vocals are spirited if not excessively polished, with the overall feel evoking a fun eclecticism.
It might have been nice, given the band’s obvious love of its varied traditional influences, if all the tunes had been credited more fully. Some of the medleys are given playful merged titles, such as “Campbell’s Tater Patch” and “Fly Around Pretty Little Lost Girl.” But, Little Black Train is probably exposing enough newcomers to this music that it might be helpful, for instance, to identify the tunes that are tacked on to the album’s opening track, “Old Black Dog” (“Billy In The Low ground” and “East Tennessee Blues,” as it happens.) But overall, Barn Dance is an easygoing romp through an interesting landscape of traditional music. Hearing Blackwell’s playing shine in this stripped-down trio setting is just an added bonus. (www.littleblacktrain.com)HK