Dirk Powell,
Time Again
(Rounder, 2004)

Bluegrass is a form of American music that has had a wide influence. From its origins in the hills and hollers of Appalachia (not to mention Bill Monroe's mind), it has spread so far that listeners to other genres such as rock, country, jazz and even hip-hop can find its echoes and rhythms in those fields. But behind all of that is the stark old-timey music that shows up on field recordings and in such collections as Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. It is this kind of bluegrass that is the source of Dirk Powell's Time Again.

Powell comes by his bluegrass roots honestly; one of his major influences was his grandfather James Clarence Hay, a Kentucky musician. Several tracks here feature the two together as they talk and play. Powell's touching liner notes leave no doubt that he is very conscious of the music's history and how he and his family have carried it on. Even the old fiddle used on this recording comes down from a cousin who fought in the Civil War.

Although there are a few originals here, the lion's share of the material is traditional tunes. Powell describes his haunting song "Waterbound" as a new song from an old place, and that is a fitting description.

Powell is a multi-instrumentalist who plays banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin and bass. He also sings and, on various cuts, is assisted by other musicians such as Riley Baugus, Tom and Patrick Sauber, Travis Stuart, Tim O'Brien, Darrell Scott, Jim Miller and the Foghorn Stringband.

The program includes romping band numbers like "Texas Bells" and intense moody songs like "Mother's Little Children." Authenticity is a problematic concept when applied to traditional music, but this music is authentic in the sense that the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you hear it. As I listen to "Honey Babe," I can see the song's narrator hopping a freight train in the dead of night in some Appalachian coal-mining town. It's real in a way that music that uses bluegrass as a trapping is not. Powell gets down to the emotional root of the music, the joys and the sorrows of the people who created it.

Time Again is a fine disc of music by a modern practitioner who knows his heritage. Dirk Powell's music is a treasure that will be appreciated by any true lover of bluegrass.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 5 June 2004

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