Bruce Molsky,
Contented Must Be
(Rounder, 2004)

Bruce Molsky is as good as they come, and Contented Must Be is as good an album as he's ever done. Because they're all well worth hearing, he's beating his own stiff competition.

This one spotlights his superior fiddling, with the sort of lush, gorgeous tone that caresses old music into vibrant new life. Two cuts, however, feature him on banjo and one more on his guitar. There's some singing, too, including an especially affecting version of the 19th-century ballad "Hills of Mexico," from that large family of North American folksong that includes "The Buffalo Skinners" and "Cana-dee-i-o" (the lumberjack tale, not to be confused with the Nic Jones sea-going ballad whose arrangement Bob Dylan stole pretty much lock, stock and barrel on Good As I Been to You).

The album's title quotes from the refrain to "Green Grows the Laurel," the Irish song that took up roots in America and in some variants became "Green Grow the Lilacs." On his own "Laurel" Molsky both fiddles and sings, and his friend and occasional musical partner Darol Anger backs him on baritone fiddle, adding a dark underpinning to the already bleak storyline. Among the vocal numbers, another highlight is the medley "Diamond Joe/Green River," the latter a fiddle number, the former a song that is not the Ramblin' Jack Elliott signature cowboy ballad of the same name. Nor is the tune "Blackberry Blossom" the often-performed one with that title, but something entirely different and comparably splendid.

You don't even have to be particularly enamored of old-time music (though I am) to be touched by what Molsky is doing with it here and elsewhere. By any standard, by any definition, he is a master of the art. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever your tastes, you won't be able to miss that.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 30 October 2004

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