Various Artists

Traditional Music From Grayson and Carroll Counties

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The co-manager of a now-defunct record shop that specialized in traditional roots music reports the following concerning this largely unknown masterpiece, which comes in an album cover the color of a swimming pool tile: "...must have sold more than 60 copies of that one, it is the one I always suggest to a novice that wants to know what all the fuss is about oldtime music." It is doubtful one could find a more inspired collection of music from this genre, despite the fact that no really big names are in the cast and not every instrument or type of instrumental lineup associated with the music is featured. A great deal of the material is solo, although there are a few tracks where a small band is assembled. There is a surplus of banjo playing, all of it magical, as well as strong fiddling. If only a limited number of instruments were going to be allowed on the great Ark, these would be the two that make the cut -- at least that's what banjo and fiddle players keep telling themselves. In the manner of a folk festival round robin, the 27 tracks rotate between about a half-dozen participants with some auxiliary backup from time to time. Although the playing time is nowhere near evenly distributed, there is an easy flow to the sequence of songs, and a logic as well. The beautiful, melodic quality of this music is fully present here, as well as the mesmerizing trances seemingly evoked by instrumentals such as "Fortune," an astonishing performance on fretless banjo by Glen Smith. Several of the pieces are also heartfelt belly laughs, such as the opening "Cluck Old Hen," featuring the marvelous Vester Jones on banjo and vocal, or Smith's wiseacre take on "Jimmy Sutton." Fiddler Wade Ward provides a lively "Ida Red," while Smith rosins up the bow for an intense "Soldier's Joy." "Dev'lish Mary" is a rollicking delight, played by the superb fiddler Glenn Neaves with assistance from a band that includes mandolinist Ivor Melton and banjoist Ted Lundy, both crackerjack. The aforementioned "Jimmy Sutton," "Ida Red," and "Dev'lish Mary" are not the only old-timey music characters brought alive through song here. In fact, one of the really enjoyable aspects of this collection is just how many songs are based on folk or local characters -- "Handsome Molly," "Tom Dooley," the notorious "Johnson Boys," and "Poor Ellen Smith," are just a few of the characters coming to life in this world so vividly imagined and portrayed. There are many other highlights here, and old-timey music enthusiasts will no doubt find something special about each of the performances.

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