Owen "Snake" ChapmanRounder CD 0418
A review written for Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
For some people the fiddle is the king of instruments, and they like nothing better than listening to a fiddler drawing tunes out of his fiddle with his bow. Walnut Gap is a collection of 32 (that's right - you get your money's worth) fiddle tunes by a Kentucky fiddler by the name of Owen "Snake" Chapman. Most of the tunes on the CD are obscure (they were passed on from father to son, or were heard on the radio in the 30's and 40's). Chapman has a distinctive style of playing, with certain musical phrases reappearing regularly. "Snake" may refer to the smooth stroke of his bow! In his liner notes Chapman states he was influenced by Arthur Smith on the Grand Ole Opry. Chapman is accompanied by a banjo (Paul Smith) and guitar (Bert Hatfield and Roger Cooper) on the tunes. The arrangements are simple and unembellished - something you might expect to hear on the front porch in an Appalachian community on a Saturday night.
Old Aunt Adkins is the opening number. It's a lively square dance number, which according to the extensive liner notes by Mark Wilson, was learned from "Doc" Chapman, Owen's father. The title tune, Walnut Gap, is performed in a similar style. There are some waltz tunes: Jenny's Waltz and Suppertime Frolic Waltz. A bluesy Humphrey County Blues, and even some Celtic-flavored numbers like Foxfire and Half Irish are all tastefully played.
The naming of tunes is an art in itself. Salt River is an Appalachian tune made popular by players like Doc Watson. The tune here by that name is not the same tune. Another tune called Old Jerry Davis is very similar to Soldiers Joy, which is a fiddle standard. Summertime Frolic Waltz came from the name of a radio show that Owen used to listen to. Owen said he heard the waltz played regularly on that radio show. The CD includes a nice liner with autobiographical information by Chapman, and notes on the various tunes.
This CD has a lot of enjoyable fiddle music. It is not the highly polished type of production you would get from Nashville, but for those who relish old style fiddling, this is a good find.
Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz