Riley Baugus,
Long Steel Rail
(Sugar Hill, 2006)

Riley Baugus picks and sings old-timey tunes that bring to mind barn dances and front porch music. Country fiddle, banjo, guitar and mandolin remind me of pick-up bands that entertained before technology. These ballads run deep in the psyche of people who grew up in country byways or learned some of the traditional songs in school.

The banjo picking on this CD is the best part. Baugus is pictured on the CD cover holding his banjo to his heart.

"Lonesome Road Blues" is played and sung in a lively manner. Baugus sings "What Are They Doing in Heaven" in his soulful voice and sings the playful song "June Apple" to the up-tempo beat of country fiddles.

I wish I was a June apple hanging on that tree. Every time a pretty girl passed, she'd take a bite of me.

Other tunes on the CD include "Sail Away Ladies," an instrumental, and "Rove Riley Rove," a lament of longing young men will relate to. "Wandering Boy" is about a lad far from home longing for his mother and a mother praying for her son. Baugis sings this song without accompaniment. "Boll Weevil, Old John Henry," may be familiar to most.

"Willow Tree" and "George Collins" are sad laments. Baugus sings "George Collins" to the weeping of fiddles. The words to the song have an ancient ring to them. Indeed, the song is an old English or Scottish ballad, in which a woman goes to the grave and kisses the lips of her loved one who has died.

Take down the coffin, take off the lid,
Lay back the linen so fine,
So I may kiss his cold pale lips,
For I'm sure he'll never kiss mine.

"I'm Troubled" tells of the human condition and the pain many have suffered: "A false hearted lover will take you to the grave." "No Corn on Tygart," an instrumental, is a tune that could be square-danced. I can picture the barn dance in my mind. "Now is the Cool of the Day" is a spiritual about the Garden of Eden sung soulfully without accompaniment.

I enjoy listening to this CD and I'm sure I will play it again and again. I wonder if the people who originally created, sang and played these traditional songs and tunes could ever imagine them being played in a car CD player as the car zooms down a freeway? Our way of living has changed, but not our all too human emotions. These are songs people can relate to because the songs still speak to the heart. Maybe that is why they are still being sung.

by Barbara Spring
24 March 2007

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