Various Artists

Old Virginia Fiddlers: Rare Recordings, 1948-1949

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Anyone who enjoys fiddle music should be a captive audience for this unusual set, partially based on a series of private recordings a group of fiddlers cut in a furniture store in Virginia in the late '40s. The idea was to preserve their music for posterity, and record collectors whose shelves are sagging know full well the success ratio of this concept. The analog mastering of these one-of-a-kind sides -- literally, only one copy was pressed originally of many of these songs -- has a particularly appealing sound, even when there is a scratchy layer of surface noise. The inclusion of recordings done for Okeh in 1929 by some of the same players makes great programming sense as well as providing a contrast in playing styles and a further degeneration in sound quality that will have listeners longing for the furniture store. There, the sound of fiddles and accompanying instruments was captured with a gorgeous sound to begin with, despite the basic nature of the recording equipment. Whatever might have been lacking in the latter regard was fully compensated for by the superb tone of the players and their obviously vintage instruments as well as the natural sounds of the room and a kind of ambience that has never been found within a ten-block radius of a recording studio. The set of tunes is a big taste of the repertoire from the Patrick Country, VA, fiddle scene, but certainly not all by a long bow. The most interesting aspect of hearing fiddlers J.W. "Babe" Spangler and Dudley Spangler perform these pieces in the manner they had learned them generations before is the contrast to how some of these standards might be handled by a contemporary player, even a so-called old-time music archivist. Certain ways of embellishing phrases as well as aspects of harmonic and melodic movement are old world as well as old-time; the way a musician brought up in America in the '60s might learn to play one of these pieces is, tragically, homogenized in a certain sense by the "hip" updating of rhythms and acceptable melodic phraseology. Accompaniment by Harry Pendleton on banjo and Maggie Wood on guitar is lively and just as much a thrill as the fiddling. Nobody ever had this much in a furniture store again. County did a really nice job on this package, creating a cover that is attractive to the touch as well as to the eye, and enclosing a superb, informative booklet including some vintage photography.

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