Dwight Lamb

80 : with Nate Kemperman, Amber Gaddy and David Cavins

Missouri Valley Music, no number

1. Big-Horned Cattle.  2. D Quadrille.  3. Art Wooten's Hornpipe.  4. Bob Walters' G Waltz.  5. Fort Smith.  6. Irish Cobbler.  7. Grand Army Quadrille.  8. Casey's in A.  9. Give the Fiddler a Dram.  10. Cumberland Gap.  11. Chris Jerup's Polka in G & D.  12. Norwegian Waltz.  13. Love Somebody.  14. Mahoney's Reel.  15. Fox Chase.  16. Crooked Quadrille.  17. Spring Valley Jig / Aunt Maudie's Quadrille.  18. Duncan's Reel.  19. Clarence Lambs Polka in D & G.  20. Pate Simmons' Schottische.  21. Clyde Durst's Tune in F & Bb.  22. Stephens' Waltz #2.  23. Dark-Haired Girl.  24. Bill Gray's Quadrille.  25. Bob's Tune in G.  26. Inimitable Reel.  27. Little Red Barn.  28. Tugboat.  29. Rock All the Babies to Sleep.
As will be apparent from its title, 80 was recorded as a birthday tribute to Iowan fiddler Dwight Lamb, which makes it odd that, outside the track-by-track comments, which tell us where each tune was acquired, the notes explicitly decline to describe or comment on his life and influences: 'We' in the above are the three young musicians who accompany Lamb on various combinations of second fiddle and mandolin (Kemperman); accordion (piano and diatonic), piano, pump organ and banjo (Gaddy); and guitar and tenor banjo (Cavins).  Not saying anything about the star of the show beyond generalised encomium provides more space for discussion of their friendship with him, and of the reasons behind the choices of instruments heard.

Friendship and mentoring should be celebrated, of course, and the commentary on the ensembles gives interesting background to the choices made, particularly when discussing the historical use of pump organ and piano to accompany Missouri Valley fiddling.  (Portable pump organs, locally called melodeons, were also used, but few have survived, because of their very portability, so a piano accordion is substituted.)

Nevertheless, for in-depth biography and background on Dwight Lamb's influences, I have to refer you to his own notes to Joseph Won a Coated Fiddle (Rounder CD 0429) or, for easier access, to Paul Roberts' excellent review of it on this website.  (And since Paul knows a lot more about fiddle music in general, and Missouri Valley fiddle music in particular, than I do, I recommend reading his review in any case, as a supplement, and in some instances no doubt a corrective, to this one.)

The repertoire selected for 80 demonstrates the way that Dwight Lamb's playing was variously influenced by musicians who were locally, regionally and nationally known; we might add 'internationally' to that, given the fiddle music that was being beamed from Canadian AM stations in his formative years, although no specific tune on 80 is traceable to that source.  (Lamb also plays one-row diatonic accordion, and the final track, a duet with Amber Gaddy's two-row, presents a tune learned off the radio.)

By Dwight Lamb's own account, the biggest influences on his playing were Bob Walters, from Nebraska, and the great Missourian Cyril Stinnett, of whom more later.  It's no surprise to find that tunes learned from them are well-represented here, as is material acquired from Casey Jones, Dwight's father's favourite fiddler, who was widely influential through his broadcasts on KFNF out of Shenandoah, Iowa.  The CD booklet includes a fascinating 1930s photograph of KFNF's entertainers; they include Jones, announcer Pate Simmons (the schottische named after him was his favourite among Casey Jones's tunes) and Bill & Charlie Monroe, who were presumably visiting guest stars, and probably the reason for the photo being taken.  Also on the CD's playlist are tunes learned from Dwight's father (Spring Valley Jig) and Danish grandfather (Chris Jerup's Polka), and from other local fiddlers.  Little Red Barn came from a cylinder that the family owned when Lamb was a child; the cylinder got left behind in a move, but the tune stuck with him.

Lamb's playing almost throughout seems, to my inexpert ears, mighty impressive; it may be that Nate Kemperman's second fiddle – which seems pretty unobtrusive, and I mean that as a positive comment – serves to diminish the 'occasional flashes of stiffness and awkwardness' that Paul Roberts detected on Rounder, but stiffness and awkwardness would have to be pretty blatant to make an impression on me.  That said, it is regrettable, and rather surprising, that at the beginning of Grand Army Quadrille, and throughout Norwegian Waltz, Lamb's fiddle seems uncomfortably sharp relative to his accompanists.

Fortunately, those two tracks are exceptions to the general level of excellence on offer.  Dwight Lamb is clearly a musician still enthused by performing, who has kept in practice and retained his skills.  The CD is a well-selected mix of mainly dance tunes: hornpipes, quadrilles, reels, waltzes and polkas, played with the characteristic Missouri Valley notiness, and displaying the 'busy bowing, fast, clean articulation and irresistible rhythmic impetus' that I singled out when reviewing Three Fiddlers From the Show-Me State here almost ten years ago (blimey! where does the time go?).  Like Cyril Stinnett, Dwight Lamb does all this left-handed, 'over the bass' on a regularly strung fiddle, which, incidentally, makes me wonder what the right-handed Nate Kemperman has learned from him, other than tunes, in an association that – having lasted nearly two decades – has obviously been a fruitful one.

This is the place, I think, to mention that Lamb's young acolytes do good work throughout and, as I've already implied when discussing the notes, have a keen awareness of the historical contexts in which Missouri Valley fiddle music was made; it's particularly pleasing that, although there a couple of ripsnorters (Duncan's Reel and Tugboat) included, there's a welcome absence of fiddle-contest flashiness and over-tired numbers; even Cumberland Gap goes in unexpected directions.  The asthmatic wheeze of the pump organ, in particular, is a pleasure to hear, and strict-tempo piano is always welcome in our house.  So, indeed, is a CD that recognises, as this one does, the significance of literally home-made music, played in the parlour or the kitchen for friends and family.

I could still have done with more in the notes about Dwight Lamb, and less – however justified – about how fortunate his fellow musicians are to be working with him; but there's no denying, as Dwight says when returning the compliments paid to him, that they are 'very good at what they do.'  It all adds up to an enjoyable disc, showcasing a fiddler who's still on excellent form.


Cyril Stinnett

The Cyril Stinnett Sessions: Home Videos from the Dwight Lamb Collection

Missouri Valley Music un-numbered (DVD)

Introduction by Dwight Lamb
Fillmore Park Session: Five Miles Out of Town / Durang's Hornpipe / Dry and Dusty/ Woodchopper's Breakdown / Irish Hornpipe / Irish Reel / Big-Horned Cattle / Frisky Jim / Jimmy in the Swamp / Old Joe / Jump Fingers / Thresher's Tune / Comin' Down from Denver / Cuckoo's Nest / Grey Eagle / Lardner's Reel / Money Musk / Jack Danielson's Reel Blue Water Hornpipe / Thunderbolt Hornpipe / Leddy's Hornpipe / Purcell's Reel / Ariel Hornpipe / London Hornpipe / Constitution Hornpipe / High Level Hornpipe / Hillbilly Hoedown / Ragtime Annie / Lady of the Lake / Countryman's Reel.
Cyril's Kitchen Session: Whiskey Before Breakfast / Jenny Comb Your Hair / Dry and Dusty / Joseph Won a Coated Fiddle / South Missouri / Gypsy Hornpipe / Opera Reel / Old Dubuque / Fort Smith / Bob's Tune in G / Sally Johnson / Leddy's Hornpipe / Sleepy Joe / Pacific Slope / Hooker's Hornpipe / Brown County Breakdown / Fox Chase / Wake Up Susan / Casey's Hornpipe / Red Lion Hornpipe.
Cyril at Dwight's: Red Bird / Ragtime Annie / Turkey in the Straw / Dry and Dusty / Billy in the Lowground / Frank's Tune / Highway 169 / Frank L's Tune / Frank Davidson's Tune / Old Melinda / Grey Eagle in C / Hell Among the Yearlings / Tennessee Wagoner / Mississippi Sawyer / Boil Them Cabbage Down / Old Joe Clark / Flop-Eared Mule / Katy Hill / Done Gone / Good for the Tongue / Red Lion Hornpipe / High Level Hornpipe / Seamus O'Brien / Blue Water Hornpipe / St Joe Hornpipe / Casey's Hornpipe / Old Parnell / Dick Sands' Hornpipe / Gypsy Hornpipe / Frisky Jim / Big John McNeil / Big-Horned Cattle / Dry and Dusty / Dance Around Molly / Lady of the Lake / Little Dog Trottin' Down the River / Unnamed Tuned / Walking in My Sleep / Fort Smith / Bob's Tune in G / Twinkle Little Star / Rustic Dance / Art Wooten's Quadrille / Mississippi Sawyer / Opera Reel / Grey Eagle in C / Knockin' at the Door / Old Mother McCarthy / Boys Around the World / Missouri Mud / Jack Danielson's Reel / Centerville / Money Musk / Miller's Reel / Dusty Miller / Paddy on the Turnpike / Landry's Breakdown / Gilderoy / Brenda's Reel / Hillbilly Hoedown / Angus Campbell / Long John / South Missouri / Eighth of January / Chicken Reel / Ragtime Annie / Woodchopper's Breakdown
Dwight's also keenly aware of the importance of the fiddle tradition of which he's a shining example, and of the importance of preserving and documenting it.  That's what lies behind the existence of the DVD under review here.  Lamb bought a video camera in 1979 (making him an early adopter of the technology), and – no doubt among other projects – set out to film the playing of Cyril Stinnett.  It almost seems enough to say that the result is folkloric treasure trove: 117 performances of 92 tunes are listed above, played by the greatest Missouri Valley fiddler, and what are you waiting for?

The first session listed was filmed at a fiddle contest in Fillmore, Missouri (near Stinnett's home) in 1979, with Elvin Campbell on backup guitar.  Campbell and Stinnett play in a field, somewhere off to the side of the official event; occasional snatches of singing leak through, and a motorcycle chugs by from time to time.  As Sam McGee used to joke about how the Grand Ole Opry found him and brother Kirk, both fiddler and guitarist are 'outstanding in their field.' In the Fillmore Park session, the sequence of hornpipes is perhaps a particular joy to see and hear, and gives an especially good view of how Stinnett achieved his complex, relentless and beautiful sound with a combination of short bow strokes and very active chording.

The film footage of all three sessions is black-and-white, naturally, and the images, though perfectly watchable, are slightly fuzzy when viewed on TV, or expanded to fill a computer screen.  There are occasional, brief picture break-ups, but these don't affect the sound which, given the age of the source material, is of remarkably high quality; those early video recorders must have had damn good built-in microphones.

The camera was evidently tripod-mounted, and it doesn't move much – not that it matters, since the primary aim of the filming was to capture tunes.  That being so, there's no systematic effort to interview Stinnett about his life and influences, and this might have not have been a very fruitful enterprise in any case; he was a taciturn man, apparently, although welcoming to younger musicians.  We do learn, though, that he doesn't play Jimmy in the Swamp "the way Bob [Walters] played it", and that he has no favourite tune, reckoning one to be as good as another.  In the kitchen session, there are occasional, brief comments on where tunes were acquired.  One can hardly complain about the shortage of talk, though, given the purely musical riches offered in such abundance.

The list of tunes above displays the mix, already referred to, of influence and acquisition from family members, local and regional musicians, the radio and recordings; Brenda's Reel had been recently learned from a Canadian anthology, and during the sessions filmed at Dwight's home in late 1979 and 1980, there's a near-sequence of Frank's Tune, Frank L's Tune and Frank Davidson's Tune, neatly illustrating both the importance and the richness of the local scene.

Geography and ancestry (Cyril's father was from Kentucky) mean that he played more Southern tunes than are present in Dwight Lamb's repertoire; being so well-known, the old war horses, Boil Them Cabbage Down and Old Joe Clark, both played at Dwight's, are perhaps the easiest way for the non-expert to appreciate how Cyril Stinnett gave his music drive by adding notes to the melody, while never sacrificing clarity.

At the fiddle contest, Hillbilly Hoedown breaks down, as does Old Dubuque in Cyril's kitchen.  It's almost a relief to see and hear that he wasn't infallible; most of the time, the viewer/listener can only marvel at the extent of Stinnett's repertoire, and the effortless way in which he delves into it for tune after tune.  "Boy, you played that to perfection", says Dwight Lamb at the end of Sally Johnson, and that comment could have been made after many another of the tunes played at Dwight's home; for instance, the storming Red Bird with which Cyril and his nephew, Pete Stinnett, open that segment of the DVD.  After it, Lamb suggests that Cyril should play Ragtime Annie "while you're red-hot".  Quite.

I should mention here that Pete Stinnett's guitar backup is imperturbably efficient throughout.  The third guitarist featured, Dave Copeland, only appears during the 'at Dwight's' sequences.  He's an adequate accompanist, but slightly underpowered by comparison with the other two.  That is not the sort of carping comment with which this review ought to conclude, however.  Rather, let me commend Missouri Valley Music for enabling us to hear and see the relentless flow of melody that Cyril Stinnett produces on tune after tune, and Dwight Lamb for preserving it on film in the first place.  You can acquire the DVD for $15 from www.missourifiddling.com/MSOTFA_Store/msotfa_store.html, and a better bargain would be hard to find.

Chris Smith - 11.8.15

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