Various Artists

Billy in the Lowground [Video]

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At the 1966 Newport Folk Festival, folklorist Alan Lomax took aside some of the old-time musicians and filmed this marvelous brace of black-and-white footage. This film captures many of them interacting with each other, and all of them making music in a rough, highly informal atmosphere. Champion fiddler Clark Kessinger kicks things off, appearing with Gene Meade on acoustic guitar and Wayne Hauser on banjo on six selections, including the title cut. Kessinger employs great technique and a beautiful tone with a real bite to it, and puts it across with a great deal of body language and a small smattering of showmanship. His "Wednesday Night Waltz" shows astonishing invention while showcasing his ethereal playing and ability to sustain both chords and single notes beautifully.

Equally amazing in the technique department are the unique autoharp stylings of Kilby Snow. Developing an individual style of "drag notes" allowed Kilby to simulate blue notes on this chording instrument, unique to the autoharp. After doing solo turns on "Shady Grove" and "Please Don't Take Advantage of Me," Kilby enlists the aid of Mike Hudak and his son Jim on "dueling" autoharps on "Wildwood Flower" as a showcase to their version of a common country musician's skit of chording one instrument while picking another. Jimmie Driftwood acts here as both musician and folklorist, handling the master of ceremonies and interviewing chores. In this segment, he explains how he learned to play the ancient mouth bow, which makes music much like a Jew's harp by amplifying the tone made by holding it against the mouth. Driftwood plays "Old Joe Clark" and "Gallopin' Horse" while this old-time instrument seems to elicit a response from folk and blues musicians alike, each telling of how this humble instrument played a part in their childhood. Following that mini-workshop is an old-time jam session featuring four fiddle players (Tex Logan, Almon Manes, Virginia Manes, and Grant Rogers), along with several other players joining in on an extended "Turkey In the Straw." Next up are the Coon Creek Girls, sisters originally from Powell County in eastern Kentucky. Lily May Ledford was the constant member of the group, with various Ledford sisters working with her from time to time as the Coon Creek Girls. Their two selections, "East Virginia" and "Johnson Boys," are two rare selections from the folk song canon. Creole harmonica player Ison J. Fontenot is next, playing "La Valse de Dimanche Apras Midi (Sunday Afternoon Waltz)," emulating many of the sounds and patterns of button accordion playing on his mouth harp. He is followed by Al & Virginia Manes, who contribute "Romeo's Last Chance" and "Red Fox Waltz" before setting the stage for another group performance on "Red River Valley" featuring Tex Logan, Grant Rogers, and Kilby Snow joining Al & Virginia. The film closes with a fiddler's contest between Tex Logan, Grant Rogers, and Lillie May Ledford of the Coon Creek Girls, each showcasing their specialty piece. This is amazing music, both heartfelt and inspiring, rife with technique and feeling and well-worth repeated viewings.