Down in the Border Counties
The final volume of traditional fiddle music from the Ozarks in the Rounder Records series narrows its scope more than any other compilation in the North American Traditions series: all thirty-five tunes on this cd came from just two counties, Taney and Ozark, in southwest Missouri along the Arkansas border. Bob Holt and Lonnie Robertson, two fairly well-known fiddlers from this area, influenced several of the fiddlers in this collection, but they are not represented here. Two of the seven, Jess Silvey and Bill Conley, have only one or two tunes, which means that the other five have five to eight tunes apiece, enough to give the listener a good idea of their style and repertoire. |
Most of Jim Herd's tunes go back to his grandfather, who was born Tennessee in 1838. He plays with a complex mixture of single-note and slur bowing, not unlike Kentucky fiddlers Buddy Thomas or Jimmy Wheeler. The notes to Herd's tunes explain much about his family history and also preserve incidental information about the tunes. Herd knows, for instance, that the tunes Tennessee Grey Eagle and Tennessee Wagoner were both named for racehorses who ran in Louisville in 1839. Alton Jones plays more blues and bluesy tunes than the other fiddlers on this compilation, and his technique uses fewer double-stops and more slides, although his squaredance tunes are as straight-ahead as any.
Jess Silvey's nephew, H. K. Silvey, plays a mixture of breakdowns, rags, and waltzes with a style that is influenced by his years of bluegrass fiddle. The tone is a bit smoother than Herd's or Jones', and he throws in a few subtle left-hand ornaments, especially on his beautiful waltzes.
Jim Beeler plays in a highly rhythmic style that emphasizes droned double-stops. Two of his pieces played in AEAC# tuning are exceptional. Old Joe in Dischord is a unique setting of the tune, and Cluckin' Hen is a two-minute tour de force unlike any other version of the tune I've heard. Noel Scott has a way of punching the beginning of a phrase and using slurs that gives his tunes a sort of drive that doesn't depend on tempo or shuffle bowing. This comes through especially well on Hawk's Got a Chicken and Flew in the Woods. Both Scott and Beeler, incidentally, were under age sixty when the recordings were made in 1996 and 1997, suggesting that these fiddling traditions still have quite a future ahead of them.
As with other projects by Mark Wilson, the production values and booklet on this cd are superb. Some of the recordings are solo, but many have good guitar accompaniment, often provided by Gordon McCann.