Arlo Leach

Music of My Ancestors

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Arlo Leach's innovative concept album Music of My Ancestors tapped into the quietly building 21st century revival of interest in early 20th century folk music. Released in the same year as the fourth edition of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, the Best of Broadside 1962-1988, and the surprisingly popular "old time" folk soundtrack for O Brother Where Art Thou?, Leach's album was an attempt to create a fictional folk anthology modeled after Smith's. With his tongue firmly affixed to his cheek, Leach claims that to have found Victrola recordings of musically inclined ancestors in his grandparents' attic. Each song is attributed in the liner notes to a different imaginary forefather. For example, the amusing bluegrass opener "Old Black Dog" is supposedly played by a late '20s Nashville act called Tennessee Mountain Men, while the zydeco tune "Poisson Heureux" is credited to a Cajun duo named Dior Ete and Felix Nemeau. The record also dips into Delta blues, minstrel ditties, and brass band ragtime, all with impressive accuracy and musicianship. And, of course, all sung by male singers with nasal tenor voices that sound remarkably like -- what a coincidence! -- Arlo Leach. Despite the convincing crackling and popping that has been digitally applied to approximate antique analog technology, Music of My Ancestors is actually Leach's most polished effort to date. Several songs -- "Like My Very Last Day" and "Buckingham Fountain," especially -- rank among his best compositions. The latter is also included as one of two contemporary bonus tracks, and the full band production (including two fiddles and electric guitar) gives the song a slick radio-ready veneer that is missing on Leach's early efforts.

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