Three Fiddlers from the Show-Me State
Lyman Enloe: Sunflower Hornpipe / Sleepy-Eyed Joe / Coming Through the Rye / Schaefer's Lumber Wagon / Fiddler's Dream / Birdie / Tom & Jerry. Cyril Stinnett: St Anne's Reel / Lantern in the Ditch / Countryman's Reel / Pacific Slope / Dubuque's Hornpipe / Hooker's Hornpipe / Marmaduke's Reel. Casey Jones: Durham's Bull / Dubuque's Reel / Melinda / Jubalo / Belle Waltz / Tennessee Wagoner / Jones's Waltz.That's Missouri, for anyone who doesn't know. The three fiddlers get seven tracks apiece (interwoven, not separately as in the track list above). Many tunes are quite brief; the whole disc is just over 40 minutes long, 12 tracks are under two minutes, and only Jones's Waltz breaks the three minute barrier. This is description, not criticism: none of the tunes sounds as if it's being scamped or given short weight. Missouri fiddlers favour techniques that give the music drive and energy, notably a busy bowing technique that serves to separate the notes, and a tendency to play ahead of the beat. Charlie Walden observes at www.missourifiddling.com, a site that I've pillaged in order to give this review a spurious appearance of expertise, that this anticipation of the beat should not be confused with unintentional speeding up. Walden also observes that the corollaries of these preferences are that there's little occurrence of shuffle bowing, or of swing and backbeat pulses. He also notes that there's 'very little interest' in the modal tunes and harmonies found in the eastern states, and that a lot of waltzes are played in Missouri - although there are only two on this CD, both performed by Casey Jones.
Lyman Enloe was from Olean, Missouri, in the 'Little Dixie' region of the state, which was settled by people from further south. They grew tobacco and cotton, and the white part of the population backed the Confederacy during the Civil War; their slaves, we may assume, mostly didn't. Black fiddlers were influential on the local music, notably Bill Katon or Caton (who broadcast on Jefferson City's WOS in the 1920s) and Bill Driver. Enloe, born in 1907, had a regular spot at WOS himself, but in the late 1940s he moved 150 miles northwest to Kansas City. There he continued playing, in jam sessions and contests, and in the late 1960s began participating in events organised by the Kansas City Old Time Fiddlers Association, which seems to have been a determinedly retro affair; Enloe and Byron Berline were once 'kicked out for not playing a proper tune.' As tastes changed to favour singing and more modernistic fiddling, the KCOTFA was replaced by the Kansas City Bluegrass Club, and it's a band called the Bluegrass Association that accompanies Enloe on his tracks here, playing the usual guitar, banjo, mandolin and bass. They're a polished outfit who play with great drive, and if occasionally (notably on Schaefer's Lumber Wagon and Birdie) the music seems to sound like yet another bluegrass band rather than old time fiddling, they nevertheless play supportively, and give Enloe plenty of space; it's usually clear who's the star of the show. Here he kicks off Coming Through the Rye (sound clip), and demonstrates those Missouri characteristics: busy bowing, fast, clean articulation and irresistible rhythmic impetus.
Casey Jones and Cyril Stinnett were both from northwest Missouri, and knew each other well. Jones's sister, Lena Jones Hughes, backs both men on banjo (and once, guitar); her husband, Joe, joins her on guitar behind Casey Jones. Lena was apparently a terrific fingerpicker on guitar, and her banjo style - 'neither clawhammer not bluegrass' say the notes - is influenced by her guitar playing. Paradoxically, she's one of the primary reasons to listen to this CD of fiddle music, as can be heard on this extract from Dubuque's Hornpipe (sound clip). That clip also demonstrates the 'exceptionally clean, notey playing of complex hornpipes and reels' which Walden describes as characteristic of the 'Missouri Valley style'. Jones's rendition of Jubalo is another outstanding example of this aspect of the music, although it's not the only one of his tracks where Joe Hughes' guitar chording is recorded both unclearly and a bit too loud. Rather than load down this review with up-tempo clips, however, I'll include a sample of Jones's Waltz (sound clip), played 'in tune and … pretty, but not too fancy,' which Charlie Walden says is what fiddle contest judges look for in a Missouri waltz.
In Walden's estimation - and on the evidence of this disc I see no reason to dissent - Cyril Stinnett was 'the greatest exponent of [the Missouri Valley style], producing music that was 'incredibly subtle, complex and awe-inspiring,' with a repertoire of over 300 tunes. He gave his music rhythmic impetus by adding extra notes, which seems never to have resulted in fussiness or lack of clarity. He did all this playing left-handed on a conventionally strung fiddle, 'over the bass,' which not surprisingly gave him 'considerable command over the bass strings' (liner notes to Gray Eagle in C, MSOTFA 103, quoted in the CD booklet). The start of Lantern in the Ditch (sound clip - left) shows off his prowess on the lower strings - but not on them alone! - and Hooker's Hornpipe (sound clip - right) proves that he 'lacked nothing in terms of intonation, clarity and tone on the E-string' (liner notes, ibid). Far from incidentally, Hooker's Hornpipe also showcases Lena Hughes' guitar playing.
It will be apparent that these men were all exceptional musicians. The programming of the CD complements and enhances their inherent ability, skilfully contrasting the different accompaniments and the three fiddlers' different approaches to the instrument. It all adds up to an excellent release.
Chris Smith - 11.11.05