Roadside Theater,
Wings to Fly
(Copper Creek, 2002)

This disc is a tribute to the rich musical heritage of Appalachia (specifically in the Cumberland Mountains). It is a celebration of the tradition of mountain harmony singing, passed down through the generations by the Mullins family. Ron Short, songwriter, playwright and a member of the family, is responsible for all but three of the 17 tracks presented here. The songs and narration on this excellent recording are part of a stage production titled Singing on the Mountain and feature Kim Neal Cole and Short's cousins Bill, Myrtle and Scott Mullins and Anna Bell Mullins Puckett.

The personal stake they all have in the songs sung here is evident in all aspects of it; they love their traditions and have come together to celebrate them.

Listening to recordings like this restores a simpler time to the listener's memory, one where instruments weren't plugged in and people had to sing full-out because there were no microphones or fancy recording tricks to even out the highs and lows. It is raw and honest, and yet it showcases much more boldly than overproduced noise the superior vocal and instrumental talents of its artists. Most of the tracks on Wings to Fly feature banjo, mandolin and guitar most prominently. These instruments blend beautifully with the vocal harmonies and move from foreground to background, as the stories of the songs require.

As the record unfolds, it presents a rich tapestry of Appalachian history, from the narration of "We Live in the Mountains" and "There Was a Time" to the beautiful acoustic harmony ballads "America," "Time Has Made a Change" and the traditional "I Will Arise." Spirituals play an important part in the history of Appalachia; here, they are represented by songs like the a cappella "Set Yourself Free," the uplifting "One Day We Shall be Free" and the traditional "Turn Back, Turn Back" (from a 1958 home recording). The message of the record is a positive one -- it passes this on to the listener as the songs weave a story in music.

The O Brother, Where Art Thou? phenomenon has contributed to a resurgence in the popularity of traditional country music, which means that there is now an audience for the talents showcased on this record and others like it. The Roadside Theater has produced a gem here, and has brought listeners another tool by which to better understand an important piece of American cultural history -- and its echoes in modern music.

[ by Rachel Jagt ]
Rambles: 11 October 2002

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