One Camp Street
Cambridge, MA 02140
A review written for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
by Arthur Berman
Thanks to the availability of recordings, old time music has long since emerged from its place of origin in the Appalachians to be heard and enjoyed by people from such diverse places as California, Italy, and New York. These are the places from which Beverly Smith, Rafe Stefanini, and Bruce Molsky were drawn to the lonesome and vibrant music they perform as part of Big Hoedown.
Molsky is given top billing, the only performer named on the cover. By his detailed liner notes which describe the sources and inspirations for each tune one can infer the commitment and love he has for this music. His desire to share this passion is backed by talent and enthusiasm in performance as well.
The "big hoedown" starts with a rousing version of Sugar Babe. The trio maintains rock solid rhythm , and the vocals have a precision which one usually does not find in the originals on which they model their performances. This is a CD to purchase if you always wanted to know what the words are.
Big Hoedown reminds me of the New Lost City Ramblers at their best. Their attention to detail is achieved a bit at the expense of the spontaneity found on revival CDs by other performers such as Highwoods String Band, though. That's not to say that this is hidebound music. Five Miles Out of Town, for example, is driven by fine lower register fiddle work moving to soaring highs making for lively dance music.
Wagoner's Lad evokes the spirit if not the style of Joan Baez' rendition from "folk boom" times although the timbre of voice which Beverly Smith has is quite different. Smith brings her own personality to this ballad while being sensitive to the sources from which the performance derives.
A highlight for me was John Henry. The fiddle and banjo both move this tune along with vocals modeled after the Camp Creek Boys, not the way this tune is generally available on recordings today. The performance feels new rather than like another version of a warhorse.
Bruce Molsky shines on this recording, usually playing fiddle but occasionally the banjo. Rafe Stefanini more than holds his own on banjo but on Robert's Serenade he proves that not all Italian fiddlers concentrate on Paganini. Beverly Smith's rhythm on guitar holds everything together.
This is an excellent CD to introduce someone to old time music . It will also more than satisfy those long familiar with a musical style too vibrant to be confined to a small regional area.
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Edited by Kerry Dexter