Mary McCaslin & Jim Ringer,
The Bramble and the Rose
(1978; Philo, 2000)

The Bramble and the Rose is the only album recorded together by Mary McCaslin and the late Jim Ringer. Originally recorded in 1978, it has just been re-released by Rounder Records on the Philo label.

The album is a collection of the songs they sang together as they toured; normally, they did not perform as a duo but in individual sets. The combination of Ringer's prickly seen-it-all, done-it-all voice with McCaslin's smooth as satin tones intrigued and attracted audiences, and out of this marriage of contrasts The Bramble and the Rose was born.

The combination of traditional, gospel, folk and bluegrass on the CD is as fresh and appealing as if it had been recorded last week. The album kicks off with "Geronimo's Cadillac," which uses as its central image the photograph of Geronimo in a Cadillac car but which is about the plight of Native Americans everywhere. The topic is as timely now as it was then, even if national consciousness has since been raised. The song features Ringer with McCaslin providing harmony, but the title track which follows, "The Bramble and the Rose," is a duet which, although not written for the couple, personifies them well. It does not take a great deal of imagination to recognize who is who.

"Lonesome Road" is a mournful bluegrass song while "Stages of My Life" is bouncy and gospel-style. The traditional "O Death" which follows is a chilling duet between McCaslin as the mortal pleading for a little more time and Ringer as the Grim Reaper. They lighten the mood right after that with a silky, playful version of "Hit the Road, Jack."

"Copperfields" is a sunny sounding song with folk roots, following by "Mama Lou," a song with a waltz beat right out of the bayou. "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby" is another bluegrass style song and "Strawberry Roan" takes you back to the range. "Canaan Land" is pure gospel especially well-suited to McCaslin's high pure voice, and the closing track, "Rank Stranger," also has a gospel feel.

The album is very well put together. The transition from song to song is smooth, with perfectly meshed background music provided by fiddler Jay Ungar and others. Overall, the CD is an appealing package which invites frequent replays. Perhaps what is what is most remarkable, and what it surely a tribute to the talent of both McCaslin and Ringer, is how the music has stood the test of time. Pick up a copy and see for yourself.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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