Tangle Eye,
Alan Lomax's
Southern Journey Remixed

(Rounder, 2004)

An album of remixed music is an unusual choice for a group's debut. Mixes are most commonly associated with bored electronica experiments or dance floor atrocities made to extend five-minute power-pop ballads into hour-long chants.

But Scott Billington and Steve Reynolds, Tangle Eye's leads players, set about proving that a remix can add as much to a song as any lead guitar or rhythm player. Their choice of source material is a challenge in itself, since few people have ever heard Alan Lomax's Southern Journey recordings and called for improvement. But with love for the source material and the tradition behind it, old and new make some fantastic music together.

Tangle Eye's Alan Lomax's Southern Journey Remixed opens with little presumption, following the drawling lines of Ed Lewis's version of "John Henry's Blues." A touch of keyboard at first adds little but depth, but there seems to be nothing to set this apart as a necessary new version of the song.

But then the beat picks up, Butler's keyboard really starts to speak, and Steve Reynolds' bass throws its back into the tune. The pressure builds like steam in an engine, and by the end of "John Henry's Blues," Alan Lomax's Southern Journey Remixed is charging ahead with the unstoppable force of a locomotive, and carrying along the spirit of every artist on the album.

Those doubting what benefit old classics can get from an infusion of new music need only listen to the medley songs on "Heaven," by Frank McDowell, given a whipcrack rhythm by David Farrell's snare drum, and the illusion of an accompanying chain gang chorus by Billington's harmonica. Try to ignore the injunction to "Holler" along with C.B. Cook when his simple arrangements are layered over each other by Billington's skilled hand and shored up with a touch of Singleton's bass. Or turn an ear to "Hangman," blending Almeda Riddle's plaintive "Hangman Tree" and the Ed, Lonnie and Lonnie Jr. Young's "Jim and John," haunted by Ron Stewart's fiddle and set swinging by Johnny Vidacovich's drums. Singers that could only perform a cappella for decades are finally given an enthusiastic supporting band. Acting now as vocalists, the stars of Lomax's original recordings seem as in command of Tangle Eye's performance as any concert headliner leading their hand picked group.

It may not be news that Alan Lomax's Southern Journey tapes were a grand voyage along the paths of Southern folk. But by hammering and driving it along a new track, Tangle Eye also proves those old paths are still open, the journey still as wild as on the first round trip.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 16 April 2005

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