VARIOUS ARTISTS, SONGS FROM LYON COUNTY

SONGS-FROM-LYON-COUNTYVARIOUS ARTISTS
SONGS FROM LYON COUNTY:
DENNIS K. DUFF

Gracey Holler Music
No Number

If you are one of the many of us who’ve watched the landscape we grew up in, a landscape inseparable from our sense of ourselves, gradually change to the point of unrecognizable, you will relate wholeheartedly to this powerful song collection by Lyon County, Kentucky tunesmith Dennis K. Duff.

While many of Duff’s heartfelt songs celebrate his western Kentucky homeland, some of the most moving of them mourn what has been lost to time and so-called “progress.” For instance, “Hey Mr. TVA” is much akin with its vivid imagery and brooding lamentation to John Prine’s classic “Paradise (Muhlenberg County).” The only difference is that the leveler of the land and destroyer of dreams in this doleful ballad is a federally owned conglomerate instead of a rapacious coal company.

The lovely “Road To Dover” mines a similar vein with its evocative power and painful nostalgia. It’s the kind of exquisite song that not only compels you to sing along, but also shed a tear or two while you’re doing it. Duff himself turns in excellent lead vocals on the two aforementioned numbers, along with two other selections. But he’s also assembled an all-star cast to flesh out his compositions on vocals and instrumentals.

Contributors include Paul Brewster (of Ricky Skaggs’ Kentucky Thunder), Darin and Brooke Aldridge, Josh Shilling (from Mountain Heart), Cody Kilbyand IBMA award-winner Bradley Walker, along with newcomer, Holly Pitney, from the Mo Pitney band. As co-producers, Duff and Cody Kilby have captured some wonderful chemistry on additional standouts such as“Castle On The Cumberland,” “Iron Hill,” “Night Riders,” and “When I Leave Kentucky.” Allin all, this is really powerful stuff. (www.graceyhollermusic.com)BA


TOM MINDTE & MASON VIA

MINTE-AND-VIATOM MINDTE & MASON VIA

Patuxent Music
CD-312

Accomplished young guitarist Mason Via and Duffey-influenced mandolinist Tom Mindte take full advantage of the flexibility of the brother-duo format on their eponymous debut. Backed by bassist Ben Somerville, the pair apply their musical excellence to typical duet music (“Twas Midnight On The Stormy Deep”), bluegrass (“Heed This Advice” with Rob Benzig on banjo, one of two songs penned by Via), old-time (“Rockingham Cindy” featuring hot young clawhammer banjo player Victor Furtado and remarkable fiddler Nate Leath), even rockabilly (“I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday”).

Swapping parts, Mindte and Via sing well together. Their seemingly effortless vocal blend, however, exists in the shadow of their musicianship. The attention to detail in both their picking and singing stands out. Somehow, they manage to push the edges with their breaks without ever distracting from the vocals or straying from tasteful. Updating a classic sound for today, Mindte and Via have produced a solid, thoroughly enjoyable debut with something that should appeal to almost any roots music lover. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.)AM


THE LONESOME ACE STRINGBAND

LONESOME-ACE-STRINGBANDTHE LONESOME ACE STRINGBAND
WHEN THE SUN COMES UP

No Label
No Number

   This is the third CD released by this band, which includes Chris Coole on banjo, Max Heineman on bass, and John Showman on fiddle. Their promo material states: “The space created by the lack of guitar, the presence of three strong vocalists, and their adventurous music spirit instantly define the LAS sound.” This recording contains nine originals among fourteen tracks. The ones they didn’t write include Emory Bailey’s “Solly’s Little Favorite,” John Hurt’s “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me,” “The Wayward Wind,” sung by Patsy Cline, “Never Again” by Darrin Hacquard, and “Catlettsburg” from Ed Haley and John Hartford.

The CD opens with a strongly rhythmic and brief rendition of “Solly’s Little Favorite.” “O’Grady Road” written and sung by Heineman is a lament about the loss of his childhood home. “At My Kitchen Table” by Coole is a song about songwriting success and failure. Showman arranged the Hurt tune in an old-time style. Coole’s “American Refugee” is a sort of slow air inspired by the crash of the Canadian immigration website when it was deluged by inquiries. It medleys into Showman’s “Winnebago Man” which is a superfast romp of a tune. “Pretty Boy Floyd” was written by Showman based on stories told by John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie.

The trio is certainly roaming wild and free on this recording. They follow their ideas wherever they go with creative juices lubricating the journey. Coole contributes both the rollicking “Joe Puckett And His Loving Mother” about an outlaw cowboy who should have listened to his mother, and “Life’s Treasures,” a reflection on death. “Civil Wars” by Heineman sounds like a Civil War song, but it’s about family strife. Showman’s version of “The Wayward Wind” uses the original song only as a starting point. His “Sweetberry Wine” is a languid lament inspired by the feel of Ernie Carpenter’s “Elk River Blues.” “Never Again” is a contemporary song given the Lonesome Ace treatment by Chris Coole. Showman blends John Hartford with Ed Haley for the closing version of “Catlettsburg.”

The Lonesome Ace Stringband is pushing hard at the edges of the envelope, but what matters is that they are making great and entertaining music. Give them a listen. (www.lonesomeace.com)SAG


THE BLUE SKY BOYS

BLUE-SKY-BOYSTHE BLUE SKY BOYS
1939-1949 RADIO BROADCASTS

Patuxent Music
CD-280

It’s high time for another Blue Sky Boys retrospective. Fifteen years after the Bear Family compilation of the duo’s Bluebird and RCA Victor recordings, and more than 20 years after a Copper Creek radio compilation, Patuxent Music (Tom Mindte and Dick Spottswood producers) have released a wonderful four-CD, 128-track compilation of Bill and Earl Bolick’s radio broadcasts between 1939 and 1949.

This is perhaps where the brothers shined best because, as Dick Spottswood writes in his liner notes, “Their broadcasts revisited traditional songs and hymns that were responsive to listener tastes and their own.” We also get to hear the great trios with Curly Parker and later Leslie Keith. We have these recordings because the brothers originally recorded these 15-minute radio shows to disc for airplay on stations such as WGST in Atlanta and WCYB in Bristol.

Patuxent Music did a masterful job of transferring the discs to digital from the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and now their available to all of us. This is a treasure of songs that influenced all of the later brother duos, including the Louvins and Ralph and Carter Stanley. And the radio ads where they sell their songbooks are a reminder that this was indeed a commercial enterprise.

The only thing I could have asked more of is the liner notes of Dick Spottswood, but that is easily remedied by his new biography of the Blue Sky Boys (also reviewed in this issue). Thanks to both Dick and Tom for a timely reminder of just how great Bill and Earl Bolick were and why they should be remembered and emulated by each generation. Highly recommended. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.)CVS


THE BLUE SKY BOYS

BLUE-SKY-BOYS-BOOKTHE BLUE SKY BOYS
BY DICK SPOTTSWOOD
Univ. of Miss. Press 9781496816412. Paperback, 256 pp., 71 b&w illustrations, $30. (Univ. of Miss. Press, 3825 Ridgewood Rd., Jackson, MS 39211, upress.state.ms.us.)

Brother duos were once common in country music. The Monroe Brothers, the Delmore Brothers, and the Blue Sky Boys were all very popular in the 1930s. It speaks to the quality of the music of the Blue Sky Boys that their music is still in demand decades later. It’s due in part to their world view that they didn’t go further. Growing up in Hickory, N.C., the Bolick brothers, Bill and Earl, came to music after finding it paid better than other Depression-era jobs. They could make far more money with a sponsor on the radio and doing public appearances throughout the week than they could working other jobs locally. They teamed up with Homer “Pappy” Sherrill in the early days on WWNC. From there, they moved to many stations including WGST in Atlanta, WSOC in Charlotte, WPTF in Raleigh, and WFBC in Greenville. Their sound was softer than other duos, and they dressed in business attire with Earl’s guitar and Bill’s mandolin as accompaniment. They eschewed the hard-driving sounds of bluegrass when it came along and resisted adding instruments to their stripped-down sound.

They found the music world was not as easy as just singing their beloved hymns and folk songs. They had to be entertaining, too. Bill took the lead with learning the material and moving the duo forward. Earl was not as committed to the musical lifestyle, but when need be, he created a hilarious alter ego, Uncle Josh. This character was outrageous, and Earl was personally subdued. Their journey is fully documented by the author with extensive footnotes, photos, and appendices that list the songs the brothers sang, a comprehensive discography, and a chronology of their careers.

It was Bill’s conservative approach to trying new stations and taking some offers that curtailed some of their fame. They did not take jobs with larger audiences and greater potential, opting instead for something they knew. In spite of these decisions, their understated musical approach spoke for itself. One need only look at the multitude of recordings listed on a website such as Amazon to see just how popular the brothers remain today.

This is a thoughtful biography in which Bill, the more outspoken of the brothers, tells the story of their lives. Many other voices are included to add insight and context to the story. In these pages is an important and significant addition to the history of country music.RCB


ROE FAMILY SINGERS

ROE-FAMILY-SINGERSROE FAMILY SINGERS
SONGS OF THE MOUNTAINS, SONGS OF THE PLAINS

Pinecastle Recordings
PRC1210

The Roe Family Singers are from Minnesota and feature Kim Roe on vocals, autoharp, and washboard, and Quillan Roe on vocals, banjo, and archtop guitar, plus a large backup band with everything from electric guitar to musical saw. These 15 selections (there is one medley) include five Roe originals, a tune by fiddler Ric Lee, five traditional songs, and other selections from A.P. Carter, Albert E. Brumley, Bill Monroe, and Woody Guthrie.

The CD opens with a solo banjo introduction to “Pretty Fair Maid In The Garden,” sung in a strong and sweet duet by the Roes. The first original, “O Young Lovers,” sounds as if it could be an old song. Kim Roe reveals a powerful rockabilly voice in “Ida Red.” Another original, “John The Messenger” has a gospel message, but sounds more contemporary. Their arrangement of “Rank Strangers To Me” is simple and lovely with soaring vocals. The next original, “Peter Tosh,” is very old-time with a clawhammer lead and a topical message. The single instrumental track is a medley of “Swedish Schottische” and “The Bluejay” by Lee, from one-two-three jump to minor. The second tune sounds a bit like “Shady Grove.” The last two Roe originals are “I’m Falling For You” and “The Road Is Rocky.” “Falling…” has a Western Swing sound. A hard-driving version of “Hallelujah, I’m Ready To Go” serves as the gospel number. “Sweet Fern” gets another simple arrangement with a solo guitar introduction and features Kim Roe singing in a voice both pretty and powerful. Monroe’s “Walk Softly On This Heart Of Mine” appropriately gets a bluegrass treatment in both vocals and backup. I hear a different singer on lead and there is three-part harmony on the chorus. The liner notes say that guitar player Dan Gaarder is also on vocals. The closer, “This Land Is Your Land,” is done in a folk style (as could be expected).

This is primarily a vocal album with two excellent and well-matched voices. It covers a wide range of styles, and gets most of them spot on. If that appeals to you, give them a listen. (Pinecastle Records, 2514 River Rd., Ste. 105, Piedmont, SC 29673, www.pinecastlemusic.com.)SAG


LENA ULLMAN AND ANNA FALKENAU

ULLMAN-&-FALKENSULENA ULLMAN AND ANNA FALKENAU
I CAN HEAR YOU CALLING

No Label
No Number

This is a CD of fiddle and clawhammer banjo duets and songs, but it goes considerably outside the envelope of old-time music. Anna Falkenau (fiddle) is from Scotland and the Orkney Islands. Lena Ullman (banjo) is from further south in Britain. They open with Skip Gorman’s “Chilean Horsemen” which itself has a sort of cross-cultural feel suggested by its name. The traditional tunes and songs on the album include “Red Rocking Chair” (with a melody composed by Ullman, not too different from other versions, except that it sounds like a slow air), “Goodbye Girls,” “Black Jack David” (also with a not too different melody), and “Ways Of The World,” which is medleyed with Dave Landreth’s composition “Stranger In The Garden.” Other Ullman compositions include the “Blueberry”/“Snowdrop” medley, “Fog,” “Waiting For Anna,” and “Homeless.” Falkenau contributes her own original “Apatchy Hunting In The Garden.” The twelfth and final cut is “Easter Lambs,” a tune by Charlie Lennon, who is Irish. Lennon and Frank Livingston composed three other tunes, done as a medley.

Both musicians play impeccably and with a lot of feeling. Ullman sings in a high delicate voice with a noticeable burr in her accent. “Waiting For Anna” has a very Asian feel in some of the fiddling. I hoped to hear some old-time fiddling in W.M. Stepp’s famous tune “Ways Of The World,” but while they play the melody, the rhythm comes from a very different place than Kentucky. These are two skilled musicians from across the pond who filter everything through their own musical experiences. (www.annafalkenau.com)SAG


KRISTI STANLEY

KRISTI-STANLEYKRISTI STANLEY
HEART WIDE OPEN

Union House Records
UHR-0004

This is Kristi Stanley’s debut release on Union House and she is joined on this project by a great collection of talent, including Austin Brown (guitar, bass), Nick Goad (mandolin), Rod Smith (banjo, resonator guitar), and Adam Haynes (fiddle). Guest artists include Travis Houck (resonator guitar), Mike Bentley (guitar), Jeff Brown (guitar), Wayne Taylor (vocals), Alecia Nugent (vocals), and Marty Raybon (vocals). Stanley is married to Ralph Stanley II, and it’s through that association she can tap into the Stanley legacy. But she also explores some of the newer material that contemporary writers have to offer. Her Stanley covers include Carter’s “Our Last Goodbye” and Ralph’s “I’m Lonesome Without You,” but she also has included songs from Rick Lang (“It’s Raining The Blues”) Becky Buller (“Raven Tresses”), Candace Randolph (“Never Say Never”), Dicky Minor (“Somebody Else Will”), and Vickie Austin (“Running Blind”). She also collaborated with Union House’s Jeff Brown to pen “My Best Friend,” and the title-cut “Heart Wide Open” comes from Alex Masters and Larissa Lundstrom. Kristi Stanley has a very nice voice that easily complements the material, and this project is a welcome outing for this new artist. (www.unionhouserecords.com)BF


HIGH FIDELITY

HIGH-FIDELTYHIGH FIDELITY
HILLS OF HOME

Rebel Records REB-CD-1864

   This is bluegrass music like it used to be in years gone by. Fine vocals and strong, time-tested material free of cliche and instantly recognizable as a fine example of what made bluegrass great. Strong duets and trios marked by first-rate picking are encased in exciting and refreshing arrangements that call to mind the great bands of a half-century ago. High Fidelity is a game changer, just as the Johnson Mountain Boys were in the late 1970s. They bring the old up to date while instilling new spirit into the original music.

Jeremy Stephens and wife Corrina sing some powerful duets, as on the opening cut “My Savior’s Train” or “Leaf Of Love,” which also has a fine example of Kurt Stephenson’s command of the Reno-style of banjo with it’s robust chordal approach. Jeremy Stephens is also quite capable in this style, as they prove on the Reno classic “Follow The Leader.” They also team up on “Gotta Get You Near Me Blues” where the twin banjos really sound great. There’s a tip of the hat to the influence of the early Country Gentlemen with the John Duffey title-track and the use of The Gents’ arrangement of the Carter Family classic “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow.”

Corrina’s fiddling is a highlight on this recording. Her fills and breaks are spot-on, gritty, and succinct. Her reading of the great old fiddle tune “Grey Eagle” is a real treat. Bass players are often over looked and taken for granted. Vickie Vaughn’s playing is also spot-on and ever tasteful. Her note choices and timing are essential to the greatness of this band’s sound. Daniel Amick plays in an understated but dead-on mandolin style that fits with the tenor of the band’s presentation.

The trio shines on the gospel numbers “I’ve Changed My Mind” and on Jim & Jesse’s “I Will Always Be Waiting For You.” The band reaches back to find good material that is not overdone. They dust off a very satisfying “Maple On The Hill” and dig back into an old hymnal to get at the true essence of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” resulting in the best version I’ve ever heard. If you like traditional bluegrass that sounds like bluegrass and embraces the old-time values of a time gone by, look no further. This is bluegrass from the true vine of the tradition. (Rebel Records, P.O. Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906, www.rebelrecords.com.)RCB


FIVE MILE MOUNTAIN ROAD

FIVE-MILE-MOUNTAIN-ROADFIVE MILE MOUNTAIN ROAD

Patuxent Music
CD-315

Five Mile Mountain Road is a four-piece old-time band from Franklin County, Virginia.  The core of the band and its old-time sound consists of Billy Hurt on fiddle and Seth Boyd on banjo.  Solid support comes from Steven Dowdy on bass (formerly of the Bluegrass Brothers) and multi-instrumentalist Brennan Ernst on guitar (who also currently plays banjo for Karl Shiflett). All four band members contribute to the vocals; lead vocals are performed by Billy Hurt (“Lily Dale”), Steven Dowdy (“Five Mile Mountain Road”), and Seth Boyd (“Milwaukee Blues”). Guest Danny Knicely adds nice guitar work on several tracks.

This album emphasizes instrumental work, with nine of the fourteen tracks driven by the fiddle and banjo in the old-time style (even though Boyd plays three-finger banjo style on some tracks). Instrumental tracks include well-known old-time titles such as “Miss McCleod’s Reel,” “Durang’s Hornpipe,” and “Billy In The Lowground.” Five Mile Mountain Road has captured a sound reminiscent of older country music when country, old-time, and bluegrass were not considered separate music genres. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com.)TK


EASY 2-CHORD SONGS FOR THE MANDOLIN

EASY 2-CHORD SONGS FOR THE MANDOLIN—BY WAYNE ERBSEN—Native Ground Music NGB-407. (Native Ground Music, 109 Bell Rd., Asheville, NC 28803, web: www.nativeground.com.)

Wayne Erbsen has written a basic book for beginners who want to learn to play mandolin. The premise is that the reader is very new to music and to the instrument. Based on that premise, all of the selections included in this manual use just two chords, D and A7.

He begins by discussing what kind of mandolin to look for, hand positions, tuning, using a pick, chording, and rhythm. This is a book of tablature, so each tune is written out in tab notation, and he covers learning the scales to get familiar with the instrument. He uses the songs “Oh, Susanna” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” as the introduction to the page layouts for each song and tablature. Each song is given a two-page instruction with a song history, the tablature, and the lyrics.

There are 88 tunes in this book, including many familiar tunes such as “Angeline Baker,” “Darling Cory,” “Old Dan Tucker,” “Pretty Polly,” “Red Rocking Chair,” “Shady Grove,” and many more. Also included is a CD containing examples of each song played slowly with guitar accompaniment. If you’re looking for an easy way to get started on the mandolin, this should be a good place to start.BF


DEEPER SHADE OF BLUE

DEEPER-SHADE-OF-BLUEDEEPER SHADE OF BLUE
STEAM

Mountain Fever
MFR180629

This recording marks the seventh for the Charlotte, N.C.-based band and their first on the Mountain Fever label. The title-track Steamwas released as a single and the entire project is now available. It’s a solid effort that further marks the band’s upward movement in the ranks, and they’re achieving some charting airplay as measured by some radio programs.

Mountain Fever provides a nice summary of the project: “The title-track and first single is about a man who talks a good game, but is slow to action when it’s time to prove to his buddy that he’s got what it takes to pick up a woman at the bar.” With eight of the twelve songs written by bandmembers, the writing styles are varied, including a poignant love song “In Your Eyes” by Troy Pope, a true story “Kentucky Slave House” by Jason Fraley, and Frank Poindexter’s “Put Some Bluegrass In My Ear” and “Uncle Josh The Dobro King.” Newest member Scott Burgess turns in a wonderful version of “How Great Thou Art,” along with his own “Pearly Gates” and Wyatt Rice helping with “I Just Steal Away And Pray.”

Take note of the band’s version of the Del McCoury classic “Rain And Snow.”  Del has always sung this as a solo, but this band arrangement spotlights Troy on lead vocals with Scott providing the tenor work and Jason underneath with baritone.

After 17 years together, the band has truly cured with Jim Fraley on banjo/vocals, son Jason Fraley on mandolin/vocals, and Troy Pope handling guitar/vocals, along with Scott and Frank. Give this one a complete listen and enjoy some tight harmony and instrumental work.  It will make a fine addition to your music collection and may entice you to catch one of their live shows in your area.(www.mountainfever.com)BW


CARIDWEN & GREG SPATZ

CARIDWEN-SPATZCARIDWEN & GREG SPATZ
ALL ALONG THE SEA

Corvus Records
CR025

For years, I imagine Caridwen and Greg Spatz have heard people say, “You should do an album together.” Now they have, and it’s glorious. Few duos could have recorded a collection of such range and mastery, one that melds Irish, Swing, French, Scottish, Klezmer, and English ballads; and yes, they write tunes and songs, as well, that stand up with the best of these genres.

I’m gushing, but then I was one among many who were anticipating this release. This is not something they did just to have one more item for sale at the record table. It’s a work of love, dedication, craft and inspiration. The care that went into the sound, production, and packaging are indicative of how Caridwen and Greg approach their art(s)—with thoroughness, exactness, and just the right dash of serendipity.

Caridwen is a wonderful singer and fiddler with great tone and expression on both voice and strings. She’s also a luthier and built the fiddle she plays here. In the bluegrass world, Greg is best known as the fiddler for John Reischman & The Jaybirds, but he’s also put out his own albums, as well as several works of fiction well worth your attention. They’ve added banjo and bouzouki, respectively, here too.

Irish music aficionados will recognize “Farewell To Ireland,” “Rolling Waves,” and “Paddy Fahey,” all placed in sets with original tunes or songs that give them new significance. My favorites are an original tune by Caridwen, “The Day Of The Wren,” and Greg’s “The Lost Road Home,” both of which should become standards. Though this is an “on the edge” recording in relation to bluegrass, it’s currently the center of my listening world and getting heavy rotation. (caridwenandgregspatz.hearnow.com)CVS


BLUEGRASS, NEWGRASS, OLD-TIME, AND AMERICANA MUSIC

BLUEGRASS-NEWGRASSOLD-TIME-ANDBLUEGRASS, NEWGRASS, OLD-TIME, AND AMERICANA MUSIC—BY CRAIG HARRIS—Pelican Publishing 9781455624010. Paperback, 400 pp., 63 b&w photos, $24.95. (Pelican Publishing, 1000 Burmaster St., Gretna, LA 70053, www.pelicanpub.com.)

For many years, we’ve heard the expression “big tent” to connote the wider musical world of traditional music. Some feel that bluegrass encompasses that tent; others think bluegrass is just one of its many stakes. Author and musician Craig Harris has provided a much-needed overview of the big tent, not by answering what is or isn’t bluegrass, newgrass, old-time, or Americana, but by focusing on the musicians and the music. Novel idea, that.

Based on nearly 100 interviews in 2016-2017 of musicians from all genres listed in the title, the book covers the major artists as well as some lesser-known, but important ones. Harris has taken the interviews (and photographs he’s shot of these artists over many years) and melded them into a narrative that, though it can be dense with information at times, makes for a fascinating work. Reading it straight through, the accumulation of stories provides a sort of answer to how all the styles have fed one another through the years. The book can also be read, however, by diving into different chapters at your pleasure. A solid index and introductory chapter are helpful.

It’s clear that a tremendous amount of work and care went into the writing and production, and though we’re still waiting for a book that provides an overall historical narrative of the big tent, this is a valuable and comprehensive work that’s well worth reading both as an introduction for those new to the worlds of traditional music and for those already well acquainted.CVS


BLUEGRASS GENERATION

BLUEGRASS-GENERATIONBLUEGRASS GENERATION: A MEMOIR—BY NEIL V. ROSENBERG—Univ. of Illinois Press 9780252083396. Foreword by Gregory N. Reish, paperback, 304 pp., $21.95. (Univ. of Illinois Press, 11030 S. Langley Ave., Chicago, IL60628, press.uillinois.edu.)

It seems that each generation felt, in its time, that it was the first to bring bluegrass to a wider audience. Those who came to it after seeing the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?thought so. As did those who came to it after Deliverance. And those after Bonnie & Clydeor The Beverly Hillbillies. Yet, there is one generation present at a certain moment in the early 1960s that can legitimately lay claim to being the first to significantly expand the audience for bluegrass music. Neil Rosenberg (along with Ralph Rinzler, Mike Seeger, Alice Gerrard, and many others) was among that generation. He’s now written a memoir of that time—how he came to play and be involved in bluegrass music and, specifically, about two years from the summer of 1961 to the fall of 1963 in which he was audience to, a performer at, and for four months, manager of the Brown County Jamboree in Bean Blossom, Ind. For those of you already familiar with Neil and his work, that sentence should be enough for you to put down this review and head to your favorite book-buying site.

For those unfamiliar with Neil (perhaps those in the most recent generation to discover bluegrass), he is Professor Emeritus of Folklore at Memorial University Of Newfoundland and author of Bluegrass: A History(the essential history of bluegrass) and co-author of Bluegrass Odysseyand The Music Of Bill Monroe. Beyond that though, Neil Rosenberg is to bluegrass as Virgil is to ancient Rome. He’ll hate that hyperbole, but I’m sticking with it. I admire the man and his work that much, and I know many more who feel the same.

Neil describes his memoir humbly as a “grassroots music business history.” It’s that and much more. It’s a well-documented (from tapes, letters, records, and included photos) personal look into a moment in bluegrass music when it went from being a part of country music to a distinct genre with all the messiness and mythologizing that that implies. We’re lucky, then, that a folklorist was present. Neil had already been playing bluegrass banjo for a few years when, in 1961, he began a degree in Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University in Bloomington—twenty miles from Bean Blossom. He first attended The Jamboree as a paying customer, but soon found himself part of the house band with Shorty and Juanita Shehan and later as sometimes banjo player with Bill Monroe and, briefly, as manager of The Jamboree.

Neil writes: “Academic theories are, in essence, metaphors to help us understand lived reality.” What we have here is a telling of that lived reality. For readers solely interested in the stories and the people around Bean Blossom at that time, you’ll love this book. For those readers more interested in the theories that grew out of the experience, Neil has written an afterword that points the reader to further study, including Fred Bartenstein’s work on generations and Neil’s own work on the gentrification of bluegrass, first suggested by Mayne Smith.

As part of the Music In American Life Seriesby the University of Illinois Press, the production is of the highest quality, with notes, bibliography, general index, song index, and an especially good foreword by Gregory N. Reish, which places Neil in his unique relation to bluegrass as both participant and scholar. Also included is a chapter on the scope and history of the recordings that Neil made at Bean Blossom during 1961-’63 that are now at the Library Of Congress (and will, I hope, be available one day for online listening).

So, Neil was there and part of it. But this memoir is not a narrow, myopic look at the events of the time. He neither overstates nor understates what he saw and was part of. Neil took in the whole scene, but was clearly not so much interested in himself as he was in everything going on around him. As such, he’s the perfect guide—our Virgil—to a unique place and time in bluegrass music. This memoir is as essential reading as Bluegrass: A History.CVS


ALWAYS BEEN A RAMBLER

ALWAYS-BEEN-A-RAMBLERALWAYS BEEN A RAMBLER: G.B. GRAYSON AND HENRY WHITTER, COUNTRY MUSIC PIONEERS OF SOUTHERN APPALACHIA—BY JOSH BECKWORTH—McFarland Publishing 9781476667294. Contributions to Southern Appalachian Studies (Series), 234 pp, $25. (McFarland Publishing, P.O. Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640, www.mcfarlandpub.com.)

It’s rare for a labor of love, which this book clearly is, to also be a well-written, balanced, and rigorous work of scholarship. This book is all of those things. Contributions to Southern Appalachian Studies is a series devoted to the history and culture of the region. Always Been A Rambleris both an in-depth study of the early country music musicians G.B. Grayson and Henry Whitter—as a duo and individually—and a story of a unique time and place in the American experience.

Josh Beckworth is an English teacher (which explains the crisp prose) and a recipient of the W. Amos Abrams prize from the North Carolina Folklore Society. In a brief preface, Beckworth describes his own journey that brought him to the duo: “Not only were they influential, we were also from the same place. I suddenly felt connected with traditional music in a way I never had before.” That investment with his subject is infectious. Beckworth brings the reader into a story of families and fame as interesting as any HBO mini-series (and I would love to see that).

The book is divided into two sections. The first deals with Grayson and Whitter and the people and culture surrounding them. The second deals with the music—the wide-ranging songs the two men performed and recorded—everything from murder ballads to Tin Pan Alley. Old-time music has never been a pure art form untouched by the world. This book clearly shows how the wider world and a very distinct region cross-pollinated to create the beginnings of country, bluegrass, old-time, and popular music. A fascinating, well-written book that ought to have a wide readership.CVS