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North American Traditions:
The Art of Traditional Fiddle

(Rounder, 2000)

Anyone who has read my reviews of other Rounder Heritage CDs know that I think this series is a wonderful chronicle of traditional music, and this entry in the "North American Traditions" series is another superb addition. You'll find here 33 fiddle tunes brought together from all over the continent, along with a 32-page illustrated booklet covering the tunes, their provenance and the performers in depth. It's a ton of great fiddling music and lore stuffed into one sweet little package. Many of the tracks are taken from both current and out of print Rounder albums, and some are previously unissued.

You'll find such backwoods mountain tunes as Alva Greene's performance of "Hunky Dory," accompanied by knitting needles drummed on unfingered strings, a process known as beating straws. There are plenty of other tunes from Kentucky, such as "Snake" Chapman's "Rock Andy" and Buddy Thomas's rendition of "Yellow Barber," in which the clean style and perfect intonation are mercifully typical of all the playing on this CD. The splendid Roger Cooper is present here, and after one track, you'll want his full CD. There's also some western swing among the Kentuckians, with Jim Woodward's "Midnight" hearkening back to Bob Wills with its sock guitar accompaniment. "Milk Cow Blues," played by Kentucky's Alton Jones, even yields up some swinging blues improvisation.

The Cape Breton style has its share of performers here, such as Theresa McClellan and Jerry Holland's clean, crisp and muscular playing. This style is a development of the Scots fiddle style, accompanied by piano. Theresa Morrison and Joe MacLean are also in the Cape Breton contingent, with MacLean's march, "Nancy," a real standout. There's more from Canada: the New Brunswick style of playing is heard in Gerry Robichaud's "Bouctouche Reel/St. Anne's Reel," in which the bagpipe-like chanter quality recalls its Scots roots. There's even an example of Quebec style, with Larry Riendeau's "Le Pied du Mouton," whose keys keep switching from major to minor. It's a gem, beautifully played.

New Hampshire fiddler Oscar Robichaud's "Moccasin Two-Step" offers a modal sound apparently acquired from a Native American source. There's more New England fiddling from Joe Cormier, whose "Clay Pipe Medley" is rhythmically supported by "bones."

Among the real standouts are Canadian fiddler Graham Townsend's "Lucy Campbell/Walker Street," brilliantly played in the Irish style, and Robert Cormack's "Aberdeen Medley," an air and two hornpipes that demonstrate a masterful facility. The disc ends with a full-scale square dance band led by fiddler Bob Holt playing "Rattlesnake," a tune that contains some interesting rhythms, punctuations, and pulses.

I've only scratched the surface of this wonderful fiddling disc. Any fan of the music will find much of value here, and fiddlers will find a wealth of good music to incorporate into their own repertoires. This is an indispensable volume for all devotees of the "Devil's Box."

[ by Chet Williamson ]
Rambles: 22 September 2001

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