Sal's Got Mud Between Her Toes/ Calico/ Lost Indian/ William Reilly/ Speed the Plow/ Old Beech Leaves/ Green River/ Georgia Horseshoe/ Happy Hollow/ The Winding Sheep/ Georgia Belles/ Coal Harbor Bend/ Byard's/ Billy in the Low Ground/ Jonah in the Windstorm/ Stuart's Longbow/ The Downfall of Our House/ Last of Harris/ Indian Nation/ Mystery (Bonus Track)Earlier this year, Jason Cade and Rob McMacken laid down twenty tracks, playing live at a studio in Athens, Georgia, over just two mornings, and subsequently selected what they felt were the best for this album. The overall sound is much the same as with their previous release (see review elsewhere in MT).
They play versions of old time tunes on fiddle (Cade) and mandolin or dulcimer (McMacken), and again, the results display all the benefits of the deceptive simplicity of their approach, in the straightforward beauty of this music. The fiddle is almost always the lead instrument, playing over a harmonising texture provided by the dulcimer, the combination enhancing the rhythmic drive of the tunes, without ever detracting from the central pulse that belongs to the fiddle. I think it was Bill Monroe who said that the mandolin was the main percussion instrument in bluegrass, but it’s not like that here. On the contrary, that’s almost the opposite of how Rob McMacken plays his, deftly complementing the fiddle melodically and harmonically.
The tunes come from a comparatively limited area - the majority from eastern Kentucky, plus a handful from western North Carolina and West Virginia. That these places can yield music of such quality and variety should be no surprise to anybody who has paid any attention to American fiddle music, but the richness of the repertoire still has the power to impress, and the music never loses its ability to involve and move the receptive listener.
Each tune is credited in the notes to a particular player of an older generation, which is not, I think to undermine the sense of community which is crucial to music like this, but rather to underline how communities are made up of individuals, each of whom has brought something of their own to making music. That Cade and McMacken also bring much of their own is apparent through the ways in which they use their instruments to add expression and variation to the tunes, and also in some of their observations about the tracks (such as noting that on William Reilly, a song air from Scotland, there are ‘shades of inspiration from John Coltrane’). As long as traditional music can be played with this degree of faithfulness to its origins, combined with a real sense of the modern musicians who are playing it, its future seems in very good hands.
Ray Templeton - 21.10.15