New CD Reviews

2009.11.12

Several reviews have come out recently on my new album with Casey Joe Abair If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed (Yodel-Ay-Hee 074):

From Tony Spadaro, aka Old Woodchuck, over at Rocket Science Banjo:

“If You Want To Go To Sleep, Go To Bed”. Is the title of the new cd by banjoist Hunter Robertson and fiddler Casey Joe Abair. And it is obviously a work that involved a lot of late nights for a long time before any recording equipment was ever set up. When the players know each other well, and have put in many hours together, fiddle and banjo duets can catch fire, producing an event that is more than the sum of the two instruments. Abiar and Robertson obviously know each other well and know how to throw ideas back and forth in a way that brings the listener a new insight into the music. If that all sounds a bit “classical”, well perhaps it is. The banjo fiddle combination is does not have the full sound of a string band, it is more like a chamber group, where the communication between instruments and players is more important than a full group sound. Listeners can really hear the two instruments because they differ in range, timbre, attack, sustain, and so many other ways. It is almost as if the fiddle and banjo go so well together because they have so little in common.

Banjo and fiddle is also one of the most exacting and dangerous combinations to record. Unlike a full band, fiddle and banjo will not cover mistakes for each other. Each player is fully responsible for every note he produces. This is not music for players who need the safety net of guitar and bass.

The selection of tunes is heavily weighted toward the old tunes played with the fire and enthusiasm they really deserve but seldom get these days, but there are some less common tunes that work beautifully in the duet setting. their “The Devil’s Dream” is from Hobart Smith and very different than the one I play. It is actually considerably more “band” friendly and the tune is closer to John Brown’s Dream.

“Fort Smith Breakdown” doesn’t show up on many jam lists but is a super tune from a 1920s recording by Luke Highnight’s Ozark Strutters. Here Robertson is playing a fretless Harmony ResoTone in Old G (gDGDE) tuning. “Run Slave Run” uses the same tuning and probably the same banjo.

“Hog Eye Man” aka “Sally In The Garden” is frequently played crooked, but Abair and Thompson seem to have found a whole new crooked way to do it. I’m going to try it out, but I won’t attempt to show it to my jam groups.

Some of the selections are great “trance” tunes where the two instruments seem to float around the melody passing it back and forth until you feel it has been the background music to your entire life. I was very surprised to read that “Tater Patch” and “Sandy River Belle” were each only about four minutes, as was their rendition of “Sail Away Ladies”

The album is Yodel-Ay-Hee number 74, and you can order it direct from Hunter Robertson’s website: http://www.hunterrobertson.com, where you can also watch videos of Abair and Robertson, and even buy a copy of Robertson’s solo album “Hunter Robertson Sings Songs For The Masses.”

From Gadaya over at Times ain’t like they used to be:

“Here’s a quick review for an excellent new cd i received a few days ago. Under the evocative title “If you want to sleep, go to bed” (A saying by banjo-player Charlie Lowe, who was a major figure of the Round Peak old-time musical tradition and who liked his music fast…) it contains almost exclusively fiddle and banjo duets by two young musicans, Casey Joe Abair and Hunter Robertson. The fine art of fiddle and banjo duets is the core of american old-time music and the two musicians gives us an excellent and energetic selections of instrumental tunes, some well-known, some more obscure, along with a few old-timey songs sung in the expressive and rough vocal style of banjo player Hunter Robertson. The contrast with the delicate voice of his wife Fereale who join him on three numbers makes a delightful combination (it reminds me of some Blind Willie Johnson numbers where the rough street singer sings with a woman).

An elegant and tasty packaging along with some fine liner notes (the source and tunings are provided for each track) to boot makes this cd a must-have for every fan of authentic and deep appalachian old-time music.

Go to Hunter Robertson’s website to hear some samples of it. You can order the cd directly from the website or from various places like ITUNES, AMAZON, ELDERLY…”

And from Rambles.NET, by the ever astute Jerome Clark:

“The title quotes the wisdom of old-time banjo player Charlie Lowe of North Carolina. The message: if you don’t like lively music, get lost. Though Lowe is long gone, Casey Joe Abair (fiddle) and Hunter Robertson (banjo, lead vocals) carry on the fiery tradition of Southern mountain music. Neither man, however, is a Southern musician. Abair hails from Vermont, where the California-born Robertson was living when this was recorded. Since this past May he has resided in France.

Robertson’s music came into my life with his striking Songs for the Masses (a tongue-in-cheek title if ever there was one). I reviewed it in this space on 5 July 2008. Masses was not just another accomplished oldtime-revival album but something that sounded as if delivered intact (but for the rare electric guitar) from some remote provincial outpost in the 19th century. I marveled at what I called its “almost skinless sound.” The vocals conjured up “a 200-year-old ghost … accidentally captured on the tape as, otherwise inaudible, it sang to Robertson’s playing of an old tune.” This was the sound of American folk music, one surmises (we can’t know for sure, of course), as it was before the advent of recording equipment.

If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed is not that sort of album, except perhaps on those occasions when Robertson sings in the sort of choked rasp that made Masses feel so eerily out of its era. Abair & Robertson’s atmospheric reading of “In the Pines” (accompanied by Fereale Robertson’s disembodied harmony singing) captures something of the not-of-this-earth sensibility of Robertson’s previous disc, and it owes nothing to the Louvin Brothers, Bill Monroe or Lead Belly. Mostly, though, the two have moved the music into the 20th century: not the fiddle/banjo duet itself, which goes back to what the antique song calls “the good old colony times,” but to the precision and tonality of more — relatively — modern approaches. Some of this survives in its native form in Appalachia, and you can still hear it on stages of Southern fiddle and folk festivals.

Abair & Robertson do what they do very well. The 17 cuts consist of genre standards (“Old Joe Clark,” “Ducks on the Millpond,” “Bonaparte’s Retreat” and the like), but the arrangements are distinctive and the melodies are not always the familiar ones. From the evidence of Masses it was clear that Robertson’s knowledge of traditional music is encyclopedic, and I presume Abair’s boasts comparable pagination. Their music is bright, vivid and lovely. If you find yourself nodding off through Sleep, see your doctor.”

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