The country and bluegrass fiddler Mark O'Connor has been a pioneer in the institutionalization of American vernacular styles, participating in various symphonic and chamber music projects, and establishing an impressive range of educational activities. He has headlined or participated in various recordings involving country-classical or folk-classical fusions (including Yo-Yo Ma's Appalachian Journey). This release lies between his marquee career and his educational empire. It was released in conjuction with a new volume of his O'Connor method violin instruction books, and the arrangements heard are taken directly from that volume. They're straightforward versions of familiar tunes from a large variety of traditions: old-time fiddle music, ragtime, jazz minstrelsy, labor song (We Shall Overcome is the representative here), religious music, patriotic songs, spirituals, and more. The piano accompaniments, played by Rieko Aizawa, are in the simple parlor mode of the 19th century. The emphasis is on the diversity of the American tradition rather than on virtuoso performance, and O'Connor's project becomes more and more interesting in this respect as he develops it further. Undeniably, no one has attempted anything of this scope since Dvorák's day, and those intrigued by that, as well as actual students of O'Connor's method, will enjoy this album. For those more interested in the result, check out one of O'Connor's more extensive classical pieces, such as Fanfare for the Volunteer.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim