The first thing you'll notice in Cricket's Lullaby is the sheer authenticity of James Bryan's style, something evident, as the promo lit says, "as soon the bow hits the strings". The guy doesn't play from the hands but from bone, marrow, and blood, with the same spirit and understandings held by early pioneers, dusty troubadors, and barn-raising string raspers. The proof, of course, is in the pudding: way back when, Bryan sat in with Bill & James Monroe and Norman & Nancy Blake. His partner, guitarist/mandolinist Carl Jones, has had his work picked up by The Nashville Bluegrass Band, Richie Simpkins, Kate Campbell, and others. When the pair met and issued their first outing, Two Pictures, the disc was recognized for the work of elder beauty it was, prized by the many who set it in a special place in their collections. Lullaby is the eagerly awaited follow up.
This isn't hoedown music, though sections—such as Patty on the Turnpike—carry a merry danceable air. It isn't the speedster side of the house that so many, myself included, so often delight in. Instead, the CD purveys the more difficult side of a fiddler's chops and the guitar's power to weave a backdrop of bygone times: the ability to make simple-ish melodies and well-chosen notes sing of their own with a rich pulse, human emotion, and shifting colors. Bryan carries his frontman role thusly with daunting skill, an acumen investing each line with three-dimensional life and, when you listen closely, a subtler complexity that's hidden 'neath the slower exposition style.
The trifold package is gorgeously rendered by Debbie Adams and includes an 8-page booklet with song lyrics and notes by both players. Dear Honey seems as though the melancholy interlude in a Civil War movie, a respite from violence as a soldier moodily ponders the words his wife sent by mail, a bit of gut-deep humanity before he goes to his death…or to kill a fellow human. Bonaparte's Retreat, on the other hand, embodies a sedately spry sort of reel, seemingly a quieter happiness at a cessation of aggression. Dust and Ashes sets a capstone on the scenario as a rider encounters an owl in the night and wonders as to creatures made of earth living amid divine light. You'll not, I promise you, come away from this CD without looking back to older simpler ways with a new slant and the understanding that we may have technology and commodities galore but are still not very different from generations long past, though the ageless beauty of the closing track, Star of the East reminds us that that's perhaps a good thing…or not.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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