Notorious is a quartet rooted in Euro-American traditions while centered in Eden MacAdam-Somer, singer and fiddler of daunting talent, someone who has absorbed the sounds of the Old Country and the New Land to a highly gratifying degree. Not only is she an elegant player, with timbre and feel superlative, but she's fully invested with the pastoral airs Bartok and other classicalists were so intrigued by across the waters. Elkins is the result of her and Larry Unger (guitar, banjo, bass) first meeting in 2004 and then later hooking up with Sam Bartlett (Mandolin, jaw harp) and Mark Hellenberg (percussion, banjo).
This is 100% up-in-the-hills, down-in-the-wheatfields, back-with-the-gypsies music. Old Jenny with her Nightcap On / Elkins is a prime example. An instrumental, it skips and bounces in old reel style, presenting a silent narrative of pre-Industrial days when nature held sway much more firmly. Romanian Train Song, a traditional, follows with an opening provoking a chuckle, sounding like the fiddler in Young Frankenstein…until Somer launches into the meat of the cut, skirling out breathtaking lines in flawless tones, pitching up into Orange Blossom Special territory, delivering a recital thought would that have entranced whomever the original time-lost Romanian composer was.
The band backs her solidly, a churning juggernaut when it needs to be, a barkberry chamber unit when restraint is appropriate. Then Somer sings in the slow beautiful original tongue of Gelem, Gelem / Aoleanul de la Petresti (Romanian) like a nightingale until the second half of the cut, a lively highstepping instrumental in which Hellenberg shows unusual dexterity, making a drumhead (snare?) sound like a tabla. Unger cuts swing time in You're my Baby Now, precise no matter what axe he's handling in any track, and Bartlett's higher register mando strings are sweetly enticing, ushering cool breezes in.
In the end, though, Eden MacAdam-Somer is the shining star here, even against a background of superb writing by her and Unger individually and combined, a phenomenon sitting in stellar levels. It now only remains for everyone else to find that out. If this band doesn't make it to the short lists of genre critics, I'll eat my hat. So, if you hear a spate of cursing and grumblng from SoCal, along with what seems to be the sound of cloth between molars, you'll know what happened.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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