Although many of the old ways have died out in Appalachian culture, musicians and singers from the region continue to hold fast to their heritage. Such is the case with Acie Cargill. Born into a musical family, he learned the old songs and ballads from his grandmother. The Songs and Ballads of Hattie Mae Tyler Cargill, filled with lovely singing and simple accompaniment, represents his attempt to preserve his family's musical traditions. Debra Cowan and Susan Brown join Cargill for 22 traditional pieces from the Kentucky mountains. The album begins with Cowan, accompanying herself on guitar, singing a beautiful version of "Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies." On this song and "Omie Wise," Cowan brings just the right pitch of emotion along with a deep resonance that gives these ballads a stately power. Brown, usually accompanying herself on autoharp or dulcimer, sings fewer songs but has a knack for capturing the spirit of these old ballads. Her airy vocals on "The Carol of the Cherry Tree" and "The Rosebud Blooms but Once" render these gems fresh and charming. Cargill adds his vocals and mandolin skills to a number of songs, including fun pieces like the call and response of "The Lover's Proof" and the agriculture anthem "The Farmer Feeds Us All." Although each of these singers could easily sustain a solo album, the combination of this talented group gives the proceedings a good deal of diversity. The Songs and Ballads of Hattie Mae Tyler Cargill is just about as perfect an expression of Appalachian music as one could hope to find in the 21st century. It will appeal to old-time folk fans, the curious, and mountain people who want to remember the old ways.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.