Snyder Family Band,
Comin' on Strong
(Mountain Roads, 2010)

Though like one in a broad sense, the Snyder Family Band is not, in fact, a bluegrass outfit. Banjo appears only once on Comin' on Strong's dozen cuts, and even then it's not picked in the Scruggs style that has defined the genre from the beginning. The Snyders are an acoustic trio -- guitar, fiddle, upright bass -- and their approach might be characterized as neo-traditional in the folk sense. Zeb Snyder's fluid flat-picking is of the Doc Watson school, and the repertoire consists of folk, country and gospel material, nothing from the bluegrass catalogue. Two of the cuts -- "Red Haired Boy" (a.k.a. "Little Beggarman") and "Star of the County Down" -- are Irish standards. Two others are in-the-tradition originals by fiddler Samantha Snyder.

This is indeed a strong album, well performed, well recorded, satisfying on pretty much every level. But then, so are a lot of records. Then again, this is not like a lot of other records, as will be immediately apparent the moment the potential listener's gaze turns to the cover. Zeb and Samantha are kids. At the time this was recorded, Zeb was 14, Samantha 10. Even by then, they and their father Bud (on bass) were festival veterans, wowing audiences and more seasoned pickers, including such notables as David Holt, Larry Stephenson and Tut Taylor, who provide quotes.

Nonetheless, a natural skepticism kicks in. For me, there is the consideration that, as I sometimes have occasion to say, I don't do cute. It is unsettling to hear the grandly titled ballad "The Great Civil War" and to be aware that a little girl, albeit one who clearly knows more about the subject than all but a relative handful of adults, composed it. It is also disconcerting to hear it sung in a child's voice. But it is no more than that; it certainly is not "cute." Besides being a remarkably accomplished fiddler (and not just "for her age," as some would be tempted to add as if such condescension were mandatory), Samantha is obviously possessed of high intelligence.

More than half of the cuts are instrumentals, where Zeb gets to show his stuff, picking in sparkling fashion without falling into the sort of excess too often in evidence in other technically accomplished guitarists. He, Samantha and their mother Laine demonstrate some tasty harmony singing on the traditional "Heaven's Bright Shore."

If not for the cover photos and Samantha's voice, you wouldn't suspect how young this band is. Miraculously, this is not a novelty record. At the same time, if you're concerned about the future of traditional music, well, it's here, and the Snyder Family Band is just getting started.

review by
Jerome Clark

12 June 2010

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