Sheila Kay Adams

A Spring in the Burton Cove

Granny Dell Records GDR-1210 (cassette)

This cassette contains 12 songs, 2 of which are own compositions, and one instrumental.

Sheila is a traditional singer and banjo player from Madison County, North Carolina who grew up in a community of ballad singers and musicians.  She learned many of her songs from her elder relatives, including the renowned Wallin and Chandler families.  She is a seventh generation singer and can trace her family's musical tradition back to the 1700s.  Cecil Sharp collected songs from her forebears.  A particular influence of hers is her great aunt Dellie Chandler Norton,who taught her many of the old songs and stories.

With such an impeccable ancestry of traditional music, one would expect a good album and this cassette does not disappoint.  Sheila sings in a way that is unmistakably Appalachian and yet without some of the mannerisms of other singers.  She has a fine, clear expressive voice and her frailing banjo style complements it perfectly.  The cassette starts off with a rendition of Little Farmer Boy, a song usually known as the House Carpenter and common throughout the Appalachians.  Sheila sings it with expression and a good feel for the dramatic narrative, sustained throughout the long ballad.  This song, and her version of Little Mathy Groves, also on the cassette, were both learned from her great aunt Norton.  Her version of The Girl I left behind (not the Brighton Camp one) is similarly well rendered, and is a ballad that deserves to be better known.

A particular favourite of mine is Little Betty Ann, a fiddle tune and song that Sheila sings and plays on the banjo.  The banjo playing, influenced by Dwight Diller, the doyen of West Virginian banjo players, is simple and unhurried yet precise and a delight to hear.  The two gospel songs on the cassette Camp a Little While in the Wilderness and Jerusalem Mourn form a contrast, the first being slow and sultry and the second upbeat and humorous.  Sheila's own compositions You Make me Believe in Love Songs and Granny's Song, are uncomplicated but heartfelt, with some nice touches in the lyrics.

To sum up, this is a very competent album from an excellent singer who is obviously steeped in her local and tradition and very proud to carry that tradition forward.

The tape can be obtained from Sheila Kay Adams, P.O. Box 1188, Mars Hill, NC 28754, USA.  The quoted price is $11, so I estimate that a money order for 8 would cover despatch to the UK.

Gwilym Davies - 16.8.98

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