Hold with Hope
(Gadfly, 2000)

Hold with Hope is one heck of a fine bluegrass CD. The music and the songs are both good. The only letdown is the liner notes, which may be worth one read. (Not everyone knows who Ralph Stanley is, but apparently he has been around for a good long time.) Good thing CDs aren't judged by their liner notes, for the CD is worth listening to many times over.

And as always we are going to start with the music. And the music is very good. There are three instrumental songs on the CD, and in the magical "Darkness, Darkness" both the fiddles and the banjo sing. The other two, "Snowshoe" and "Chenango County Blues," are both infectious and wonderful, although they just don't sing the same way. (And nothing says a song with "blues" in the title has to be slow-paced.)

The small group of musicians deserve a lot of credit for what they do with their instruments. They are good. They are Scott Hopkins (banjo and harmony vocals), Paul Miller (guitar, lead and harmony vocals), Peter Riley (bass, lead and harmony vocals), Gene White Jr. (fiddles and mandolin), Taylor Armerding (mandolin and vocals) and Junior Barber (resophonic guitar).

The CD starts off running with "Pastures of Plenty," a rollicking good song that pulls the listener into the music and the song. This is then followed by the first of three tragic love songs on this CD. Well, "Water's so Cold" is about love, even if it is unrequited and tragic. The slower pace in the music and the singing fit the lyrics very well. The second tragic love song, "Can't Stop a Train," is about lovers who have grown apart.

"Old, Old House" has an air of remembrance to it, of recalling what was and is no longer. "One Time, One Night" is more of an anthem, and even if it tells several sad tales, there is still part of it that is a dream, full of hope.

The next two songs tell stories. "Long Long Dream" tells of a couple and their life together. "Faded Prints (of Country Living)" could be what happened to their possessions after the end of the first song. Strangely, I find myself hoping that it is not, that it is about some other couple that I don't know.

"Sophronie" is the final tragic love song ... perhaps more sad than tragic and with an element of poetic justice to it. The CD ends with "Hold with Hope," an uplifting song which closes the CD on a high note.

Hold with Hope is a very good CD that is well worth the time to listen. The music is great and so are the songs. Take the time to listen to these wizards weave their magic.

[ by Paul de Bruijn ]

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