Hobart Smith

In Sacred Trust: The 1963 Fleming Brown Tapes

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These intimate tracks featuring Hobart Smith playing banjo, guitar, fiddle, and piano were recorded in October, 1963 at Fleming Brown's home in Chicago, and while they were never intended for commercial release, they add up to a well-rounded portrait of this immensely talented old-timey musician. There doesn't seem to have been an instrument that Smith couldn't play (in addition to what he plays here, he also mastered accordion, harmonica, mandolin, and organ), and his repertoire ranged from sacred hymns and Tin Pan Alley classics to the blues and the Appalachian ballads he grew up hearing as a child, all of it delivered with an obvious joy and delight. Among the highlights here are a piano version of "Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss" (Smith is a rare example of a man who could play piano in a string band); a fiery and hard-charging rendition of "Cuckoo Bird," full of hammered and pulled notes on the banjo that Smith called "double-noting;" a slide guitar take on "John Henry," and the a cappella "I Feel So Good," probably best known in the version recorded by Big Bill Broonzy in 1941. Smith incorporated a 19th Century Afro-American feel into his banjo playing, which is apparent on the brief and lovely "I'll Meet You When the Sun Goes Down" (as well as on "Cuckoo Bird"), and his guitar playing drew heavily from the blues, as evidenced by the closing track, a spirited instrumental version of "K.C. Moan." Smith keeps time throughout the set with his exuberant and percussive foot stomping -- and the coffee cups rattling, dogs barking, and Brown's children occasionally wandering in and out of the room -- only add to the real-life intimacy of these recordings, which provide a priceless and fascinating glimpse of a brilliant rural musician performing in a relaxed and casual environment. A beautiful set, In Sacred Trust was assembled and produced by Stephen Wade, who provides detailed song by song annotation in the nearly 80-page booklet that accompanies the CD.

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