One Camp Street
Cambridge, MA 02140
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by James Porteous
Anyone who maintains that time travel is not possible has never heard Lonnie Robertson play the fiddle. All you have to do is slip this disk into your player and you will be immediately transported to the days when reel-to-reel was the only game in town and records were sold from the trunk of the car. And while the sound might not be state-of-the-art (indeed most of it was recorded on reel-to-reel) the music here is about as real as real can get.
To say that Lonnie played his brand of Missouri fiddle music with exuberance is like saying that the Mississippi is nothing more than a big river. There is always the undercurrent to contend with, brewing just below the surface, vying for your attention and tugging at your feet.
And there will be plenty of tugging and tapping on this journey, which begins innocently enough with the rambunctious title track that serves as a perfect introduction to Robertson's style. From the outset it is obvious that we have stumbled upon something extraordinary: a hybrid of many styles that still manages to convey something highly original. The playing is skilled and fluid-sounding in that effortless sort of way that is always so deceiving. But by the end of the song it is obvious that the depth of feeling you are hearing cannot be taught; it is there to begin with.
That notion is further reinforced with another original, "Ozark Mountain Waltz." Now we can hear the full range of Robertson's phrasing, and it is joyful in the extreme. There are many other waltzes, including "Hazy Hills Waltz" and the wonderfully mournful "Kaiser Waltz." The full band treatment (usually including guitar, banjo, upright bass and occasionally mandolin) are given to Bill Monroe's "Big Sandy River," the square dance tune "Saddle Old Kate" and 'the classic tune of the region,' "Old Parnell." "Speed the Plough," another stand-out, is said to have first appeared around 1800, an era further represented with the 'pop tune' "Wink the Other Eye."
It is sobering to realize that, were it not for the efforts of Gordon McCann, who recorded over 70 sessions with Lonnie, few of these tunes might have survived Lonnie's death in 1981.
Their mutual ambition to preserve the songs that best represent the characteristic music of the region has finally been realized. It is a fitting tribute to a musician whose musical career spanned over 30 years, from dancehalls to radio shows to carnivals, where payment might be a all-day pass on the merry-go-round. As Lonnie says at the end of one of the songs, "Now, that's a good tune."
Edited by Shawn Linderman