Mac Martin & the Dixie Travelers,
Travelin' On
(1978; Copper Creek, 2004)

This album, by an admired regional bluegrass act, was recorded in 1977 and released the following year on LP. Unfortunately, nothing I can find in the liner notes reveals whether it was self-issued or put out on a (relatively) commercial label. In any event, wherever it comes from, it's good to have it back.

Mac Martin, guitarist and vocalist, has been performing bluegrass in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania since the mid-1950s. He and his band, who do not in point of fact travel Dixie, are known for their straightforward traditional approach and well-chosen material. Most band members have been with Martin for years, in some cases decades, and the result is a tight yet easygoing approach that recalls Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys in their peak period. Basically, Travelin' On, like Martin's other records, subscribes to bluegrass as it was conceived in the 1950s, when it had one foot in earlier mountain sounds and another in then-commercial country. In those days, bluegrass had yet to be ushered to the fringes of the country-music industry.

Not, of course, that Martin was ever at risk of becoming a country star. He had no such ambitions; what he cared about was performing the music he loved, and doing it as well as he could make it. In that regard, Martin has been an unqualified success. On this album he's picking songs from tradition (e.g., the unfailingly irresistible "Black Eyed Susie"), country (Marty Robbins's "At the End of a Long, Lonely Day," Johnnie & Jack's "Down South in New Orleans," George Jones's "Old, Old House") and fellow bluegrass artists (Bill Monroe's "Scotland" and "Along About Daybreak," Don Reno's "Choking the Strings") -- 13 cuts in all, and not a weak one to be heard anywhere.

If I were to find something to complain about, that would be small of me, no doubt. Nonetheless, I can't resist observing that the sound quality, while acceptable, could be better. This was not remastered for disc, clearly, but simply burned off the LP. Still, Mac and the boys' music is so good that nobody who loves bluegrass done right will let it get in the way of the pleasures to be had.

review by
Jerome Clark

14 July 2007

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