A Review and Comparison of the New Red Series Nylgut Banjo Strings from Aquila

2013.03.11

A review and comparison of the new Red Series Nylgut banjo strings from Aquila Corde Armoniche.

Aquila, the company that makes Nylgut strings, sent me a trial set of a new string they’ve made, Red Series Nylgut. As Mimmo from Nylgut explained: “Instead of increasing each gauge I was able to increase the density of each string. So all 4 strings have similar diameters. This can be done using different quantities of metal copper powder added to the melted Nylgut during the extrusion of the product. Explanation: on a traditional banjo set, the strings have very different diameters. Unfortunately, the thicker the string, the duller the sound. In fact it is well known that the 3rd string is duller than the 2nd and the 2nd duller than the 1st. With this innovative solution the problem is now solved: banjos now work like harps — all the strings have the same bright sound. On these sets, gauges are thinner than those of traditional white Nylgut while the the tension is exactly the same. Performance: brighter sound than Fluocarbon & Nylgut strings, closer to metal strings. More sustain. More powerful than Nylgut & Fluocarbon strings.”

I already had a set of the original white Nylguts on my old S.S. Stewart, so I made a recording of it still strung with them for comparison before swapping them out for the new red set and recording again. Both sets are “classic” gauge. (I’ll call the old strings “white” for the rest of this review. I think there’s also a more recent gut-colored set of Nylguts, but from what I’ve read they’re the same as the white, it just being the color that was changed.)

First impression: the new strings are definitely red — almost candy apple red! It’s a color that might give the traditionalist pause. I suppose once upon a time phosphor bronze looked out of place on a string too. It’s a little funny to see on the Stewart, but I’m getting used to it.

Compared to the white Nylgut, these strings seemed to stretch out fairly quickly. I put them on, tuned up roughly and let the banjo sit for an hour or two. Tuned up again and I was able to play more or less, though having to do some fairly heavy tweaking between tunes. You wouldn’t want to put these on right before a gig, though maybe you could quicken the process some by hand-stretching the strings. In the video, the red strings had been on the banjo for about two days and were good and stable.

By eye (I don’t have calipers to measure their diameters accurately) the difference between the 1st and 2nd strings of the different sets doesn’t look all that great, on the 3rd though it’s quite noticeable. The 4th string in this red set is unwound — there are white sets with an unwound 4th, but mine was wound so I can’t compare them. The unwound red 4th sounds good, doesn’t feel unduly stiff and its big advantage is that its timbre is the same as the rest of the strings. Personally though, I think I prefer a wound string — its timbre is different from the other strings of course, but that’s something that can be used to advantage, like for a bassy drone.

The red strings are lightly textured, which I like. On the white sets, I would roughen up the right hand playing area of the strings with 600 or 1000 grit sandpaper to give them a little more grab, like gut has. I’ll probably do the same on these eventually but out of the package I already like their feel more. As well, they feel quite a bit stiffer than the white, which I also prefer – the white classic gauge felt a little mushy to me (though the feel of the heavier gauge minstrel set suits me fine).

The sound of these new strings is bright and sharp, as you can hear in the video — which I also like. In the clawhammer section, I’m playing with my short index finger nail, but with a longer nail or a pick, they’re even brighter.

Since changing the strings on the Stewart from minstrel gauge to classic a while ago, I haven’t been playing it as much, but I think I’ll be picking it up more often now.

The finger-picked tune is “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)” by Harry Dacre, played in gDGBD, and the clawhammer tune “Shortenin’ Bread”, in the same tuning. The two sets of videos were recorded a few days apart, thus the costume changing.

Hunter Robertson

Old-timey Music for Body & Soul – http://www.hunterrobertson.com

Review of Unfortunate Puppy in Banjo Newsletter!

2011.10.12

Another great review of Unfortunate Puppy just came out in the 5-string banjo magazine, Banjo Newsletter! The review is 2+ pages so I’ll just give some highlights.

“Robertson is an excellent player and singer, and has also recorded two CDs. And as I discovered, he’s also an exceptional instructor.”

“The DVD is jam-packed with 133 minutes of content, and none of it’s filler. The video format is widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio), which is ideal for the split screen technique he uses to show both hands simultaneously. The audio and video quality of this DVD is excellent.”

“If you play the DVD sequentially, you’ll first see a short introduction, followed by a fast-paced and concise 12-minute overview of just about every right and left hand technique I’ve ever heard of. You’ll see explanations and demos of drop thumb, M skips, Galax licks, slides, push-offs, hammer-ons, pull-offs, alternate string pull-offs, and more. Noticeably absent is the “cluck,” a technique Robertson doesn’t use much. It’s a great overview, and I think even veteran players will benefit from watching this section.”

“I can’t stress enough how good the video quality is on this DVD. Even the slowed-down segments are crisp and blur-free. In some cases, the slowed down audio suffers a bit (which is to be expected), but it never gets out of the acceptable range.

This DVD sets a new standard for banjo instructional material, and I can’t imagine any clawhammer player who couldn’t pick up a few things while watching it.”

“If you’re the type of player who has grown to depend on tab when learning a new tune, this DVD (along with some time and effort) might assist you in breaking free from that constraint.  But, as I mentioned, this product is not a start-from-scratch package for beginners. The 12-minute introductory video provides a quick overview of clawhammer techniques, but don’t expect this video to provide everything a new player must know. But on the other hand, I think most new players would certainly enjoy seeing a banjo master in action – especially one who explains what he’s doing.

This DVD is competitively priced – the cost of about two CDs, or about half of what you’d pay for a single private lesson.

If all instructional videos were this good, it might turn me into a DVD consumer after all.”

- John Walkenbach

Yup, there are lots of highlights! The review includes a tab of Lonesome John (transcribed by Tony Spadaro of Rocket Science Banjo) and there are two recordings I’ve made of the tune (one solo, the other with fiddler Casey Joe Abair) up on Banjo Newsletter’s website.

To see more about the DVD: http://www.hunterrobertson.com/unpupframe.html

Hunter

 

Review in Bluegrass Unlimited of Unfortunate Puppy (DVD)

2011.09.20

A great new review of Unfortunate Puppy in Bluegrass Unlimited.

HUNTER ROBERTSON
UNFORTUNATE PUPPY AND OTHER FINE TUNES: LESSONS IN INTERMEDIATE & ADVANCED CLAWHAMMER BANJO
Mel Bay 22208DVD.

On this well-done instructional video, Hunter Robertson lays out the groundwork for learning old-time banjo—not just clawhammer style, but also two- and three-finger styles. The main thrust of this DVD is to present right- and left-hand techniques, tunings grounded in the fundamentals that build an informed style.

Robertson gives a brief description of each tune, then plays the tune. Next, he breaks the tune down with a verbal description of what he is doing. Then the tune is played slowed so that you can easily follow the right- and left-hand finger positions. Finally, it’s played at a medium tempo for you to practice along. Split-screens showing the two hands are used throughout. There are visual guides to help you keep on track. He teaches ten tunes played in the clawhammer-style in this fashion.

There is a wonderful section on right-hand techniques where Robertson takes a good amount of time to explain the techniques and demonstrate them, following the same procedure he uses for the ten clawhammer tunes. The tunes are credited to his source and he attempts to catch the essence of that performance. He does not lavishly copy the source, but he does successfully present a rendition that is honest and accurate. The complexity of the tunes will take an intermediate to advanced ability to pull off. If you have mastered the right-hand techniques addressed in that section, it will make it much easier to tackle the tunes.

There is an in-depth section that covers several factors for mastering these styles. Robertson discusses thumb lead versus index lead in the two-finger style and does a nice job of demonstrating the old time three-finger approach. He demonstrates the piece “in the style” of a source and not necessarily a note-for-note representation of anyone’s style. The split screen reveals how both hands interact. He also slows these pieces down, as well. He does a nice job of breaking down Dock Boggs’ “Danville Girl” and “Sugar Baby” to demonstrate the essence of Dock’s style. The other extra is a performance of “Raleigh & Spencer” that can also be viewed on YouTube. Robertson’s guttural vocals and forceful banjo playing make for an impressive performance.

Robertson uses black-coated strings on his banjo so the viewer has no problem seeing which strings he is hitting. The accompanying .PDF provides a good deal of information on these tunes. There is a list of a lot of resources that can currently be found on the Internet. This DVD stands among the best out there for learning more about the old-time banjo styles. RCB (Mel Bay Publications, Inc., #4 Industrial Dr., Pacific, MO 63069, www.melbay.com.)

To see more about the DVD (a video, what tunes are taught etc.): http://hunterrobertson.com/unpupframe.html

Two New Reviews of Unfortunate Puppy

2011.08.02

From Trad Magazine:

BRAVO (Trad Mag’s award of distinction)

We knew that Hunter Robertson was an excellent banjo player, his last CD If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed (Trad Mag n° 129) proved it to us, if needed. Now, with this DVD, we also know that he’s an excellent teacher.
This new DVD isn’t a beginner’s clawhammer banjo method but is more dedicated to those who already have a good grounding in the style. The idea behind these lessons is excellent, that is, learning to play well known (at least to aficionados) versions of fiddle tunes on the banjo, such as “Cripple Creek”, “Bonaparte’s Retreat”, “Ducks on the Millpond”… ten fiddle tunes in all.
The first chapter is a review of all the clawhammer banjo player’s “tools” such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, alternate string pull-offs, slides and other techniques used in the style. For each piece, Hunter plays a version at normal speed, then he explains the difficulties of the piece and then plays it again at a slower pace so that you can train by playing it along with him.
As a bonus, Hunter gives a quick look at two and three-finger picking styles.
This is an excellent DVD and should immensely please those who are interested in the style, who’ll find not only beautiful versions of fiddle tunes but also ideas for arranging pieces of their own choice.

– Claude Vue

BRAVO

On savait Hunter Robertson excellent banjoïste, son dernier CD « If you want to go to sleep, go to bed » (Trad Mag n° 129) nous l’avait prouvé si besoin était. Maintenant, avec ce DVD, on sait aussi que c’est un excellent pédagogue.
Ce nouveau DVD n’est pas une méthode de banjo clawhammer mais est plutôt réservé à ceux qui ont déjà une bonne expérience du genre. L’idée de ces leçons est excellente, à savoir apprendre au banjo des versions de fiddle tunes connus, tout du moins par les afficionados tel que Cripple Creek, Bonaparte’s retreat, Ducks on the millpond…..en tout dix fiddle tunes.
Le premier chapitre est une revue de tous les « outils » du banjoïste en style clawhammer à savoir les hammers, pull offs, alternate string pull offs, slides et autres techniques particulières au style.
Pour chaque morceau, Hunter donne une version à vitesse normale, il explique ensuite les difficultés du morceau puis le rejoue à vitesse plus lente pour que vous puissiez vous entrainer avec lui.
En bonus, Hunter donne un bref aperçu des styles « two fingers » et « three fingers » picking.
Ce DVD est excellent et devrait ravir les adeptes du genre qui vont y trouver outre de très belles versions de fiddle tunes mais aussi des idées pour arranger des morceaux de leur choix. – Claude Vue

From No Fences/Bluegrass Bühne:

The banjo player with the rough voice, who at this time is living in Geneva, submits an educational DVD which has been released by a leading US music publisher. Ten known old-time titles like “Cripple Creak” and “Bonaparte’s Retreat” he wants to teach us here, with the explicit purpose that we to not imitate everything slavishly, but develop our own ideas. With that, he plays a fretless banjo.
In contrast to the dialog based AcuTab DVDs, Robertson conducts frontal lessons. Basically, the screen is divided for the left and the right hand, in close-up. As an introduction, Roberson shows the various striking techniques, then the pieces are introduced in normal speed, then technical detail is explained, and finally the pieces are played again in half and medium speed. One should actually bring along some knowledge of the clawhammer style, the entrance level seems high.
The clawhammer style may seem clumsy and primitive, here it becomes clear how subtle and elaborate it can be and how every musician has his peculiarities. Except in “Raleigh & Spencer”, Robertson does not sing (he anyhow rather snarls), not even where there is a text. Finally, the demonstrates 2- and the 3-finger picking and plays “Raleigh & Spencer” again fully.
As an add-on, the DVD has a 26-page booklet in PDF format for printing, with all the needed explanations and advices. Working one’s way through these music lessons will cost some considerable effort, but in the end one surely will have learned something.

– Eberhard Finke

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Old Time News Review

2010.09.19

A nice review of If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed in the last Old Time News, from FOAOTMAD:

By Ray Banks

This is a collection of fiddle-banjo duets with some singing from two musicians whose names are relatively new to me, but whom I’m looking forward to hearing more from at this year’s Sweet Sunny South festival in September, where they will perform along with the New Deal String Band.

The recordings, on John Herrman’s Yodel-Ay-Hee label, were made in the performers’ homes, and have a raw, unengineered sound of the kind we’re all used to in modern field recordings, with creaking chairs and floorboards. The instruments are played loudly and enthusiastically with a good swing, and at a pace I’ve come to expect from some of the younger American players. The title of the CD is a quote from the Round Peak pioneer Charlie Lowe of Mount Airy NC who apparently liked his music fast.

The tunes on the CD are largely the session standards most of us have come to know and love, played tightly with a lot of both technique and energy. They play a lovely driving “Last Chance” and I like the fact that they play Bill Stepp’s version of “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (“that’s the boney part”) and not the usual one with the terrible sand dance. Their “Sandy River Belle” is a very different tune to the one I know, while their “June Apple” is good and wild.

The balance, unusually, is slightly in the banjo player’s favour; this unfortunately makes the fiddling on some of the tunes, whilst very good, a little less prominent than usual. There’s some singing on a few of the tracks from Robertson whose voice has a gritty quality that reminds me of gospel singer Blind Willie Johnson. The sleeve notes, by Hunter Robertson, give all the tunings used on banjo and fiddle, with some source information for the selected tunes.

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Sing Out! Magazine CD Review

2010.05.26

A great review of my last CD with Casey Joe Abair, If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed, just out in the new issue of Sing Out! Magazine:

The title of this wonderful 17-song collection of traditional tunes comes from long-gone Round Peak banjoist Charlie Lowe, who preferred up-tempo songs. The album is aptly titled, a delight to listen to and explore. “Explore” because nearly all the songs, though familiar (“Devil’s Dream,” “The Coo Coo,” “Ducks on the Millpond,” etc.), are based on versions that are a bit more obscure. These small differences add a great deal of interest to the recording. For instance, “Bonaparte’s Retreat” is based on Bill Stepp’s version, rather than the more well-known melody.

The liner notes state that the album was recorded “direct to stereo, over the course of a few months in our homes, not always under the most sanitary of sound conditions, the sirens on ‘Sugar Baby’ for example” – there’s definitely an old-time aesthetic to the recording. These guys are well versed in the repertoire, but even more important, they deliver it with fresh abandon. They don’t sound like they’re scared to make a mistake, which is an even greater homage to the old songs.

Hunter Robertson previously released a solo CD, Sings Songs for the Masses, to good reviews, and this is Casey Joe Abair’s first recording. A word might be said about Robertson’s vocals, which tend toward the gravelly side. I like his voice, but it’s a tone more on the bluesy side of old-time. Still, we don’t all have to sound alike, and his style is unaffected. A highlight is “Hog Eyed Man,” with amazing lyrics that come from the dark underbelly of old-time.

Terrific packaging and liner notes, with brief historical sources on each song and banjo tunings. A highly engaging selection, well played. — CS for Sing Out! Magazine

More on the album, including sound files, here: www.hunterrobertson.com/ifyouframe.html

Acoustic Magazine “If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed” CD Review

2010.05.12

Another great review of If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed from Britain, this time from Acoustic Magazine (issue 38):

Named after a favorite saying of banjo player Charlie Lowe, Abair and Robertson present a collection of old time material. The vocals are surprising, as Robertson, featured on the cover, doesn’t look like that sort whiskey-and-cigarettes voice should come out of, and are addictive, especially on I Truly Understand and the well known but speedy version of Old Joe Clark. The real charm in this album is that although the musicians work tightly together, it sounds like it was recorded in someone’s back yard. There’s nothing not to like here; the musicianship is excellent, the rhythm infectious and the style abundant. As the title suggests, it’s not for the tired. http://hunterrobertson.com/ifyouframe.html

Kate Lewis

New CD Review – Maverick Magazine

2010.04.14

A great review of If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed came out recently in Maverick Magazine.

Fast-paced picking carried off in such a confident and prolific way that simply leaves you gob smacked.
This being his second release, the Californian-born but now French native Hunter Robertson really is something. Consisting of seventeen songs, it is evident from this raw and unadulterated beauty that what we have here, ladies and gentleman, are some ultra fine musicians playing their hearts out. This type of music is at its finest when played live and untouched, and I suspect that this was the case here as, after Hunter’s superlative efforts on banjo and Casey’s fine fiddling, they just played it until they got it right and pressed it onto disc.
The finest track has to be The Devil’s Dream. Perfect for The Louisiana Hayride when it was in full swing, this relatively short track of less than two and a half minutes is perfect in every sense. Whether it be the excellent banjo or superb fiddling, there is nothing to dislike about this track. The same can certainly be said about June Apple. A moderate fiddling pace, this tune has a relaxed bluegrass sound which I’m sure allows the crowd to show their appreciation in rapturous applause; a track which is not one to dance to as when Casey and Hunter play like this such an occasion has to be watched.
An experience to relish, listening to this album sure was a most enjoyable time. A highly recommended album which I strongly urge you to try and track down.” Russell Hill

Listen: The Devil’s Dream

2 New Reviews of “If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed”

2010.03.01

A couple of reviews of If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed have come out recently, always nice to see:

- “…Casey Joe Abair and Hunter Robertson take it a totally different way. Their music on banjo, violin and vocals is energetic and raw. The banjo sounds occasionally like a wild storm and impresses in combination with Robertson’s raw and heavy voice. I like the way this duo totally give themselves to the music. They keep the ancient soul of the compositions and force me to listen to their music with superb music and compositions in which the musicians search for the outer limits of their possibilities and have the guts to ignore standard conventions. I appreciate that and the result is an album with good old banjo/violin music that both sounds like it’s decades old and modern at the same time.”  -  Eelco Schilder for FolkWorld

- “Casey Joe Abair & Hunter Robertson, If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed (hunterrobertson.com). Hot old-timey fiddle and banjo. Seventeen knock-yer-socks-off numbers. These guys are not kidding around!”  -  Mitch Finley, Inland Northwest Bluegrass Association’s Bluegrass Blabber


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Recent CD Reviews from the European Press

2009.12.29

There’s been a minor spate of reviews recently in the European press for my last CD, If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed. I’ve translated the French ones. The German and Dutch reviewers seem to like the record but you’ll have to take my word for it (that’s worth more than my translation of them would be!).

From the French Trad Magazine (No. 129, Jan-Feb 2010), by Claude Vue:

“« Si vous voulez dormir, allez au lit » était la réponse que faisait le banjoïste Charlie Lowe à ceux qui trouvaient qu’il jouait trop vite. J’avais adoré le premier CD de Hunter Robertson, “Song For The Masses”, j’aime encore plus celui-ci. C’est un exercice difficile et dangereux que de jouer dans cette combinaison, uniquement un violon et un banjo. Hunter et Casey réussissent magnifiquement. Les deux instruments s’emmêlent, s’interpellent. Un vrai plaisir. On ne peut s’empêcher de penser au duo Tommy Jarrell & Fred Cockerham. Le choix des morceaux est excellent : des classiques (June Apple, Old Joe Clark, Sail Away Ladies) et des surprises, des versions inconnues ou peu connues (telles Fort Smith Breakdown ou Hog Eyed Man). Hunter chante avec une voix râpeuse à souhait, secondée par la voix très pure de sa femme Féréale sur trois morceaux, dont le très beau I Truly Understand. Un superbe album, conseillé aux amateurs de musique old time français.”

“Le second opus d’Hunter Robertson, cette fois-ci en compagnie d’un fiddler pour revisiter le répertoire à banjo et violon. Sûrement l’un des meilleurs CDs de musique old time du moment.”

“‘If you want to go to sleep, go to bed’ was banjo player Charlie Lowe’s reply to those who found that he played too fast. I loved Hunter Robertson’s first CD, Songs for the Masses, I like this one even more. Playing in this combination of just fiddle and banjo is a difficult and dangerous exercise. Hunter and Casey succeed magnificently. The two instruments intertwine and respond to each other. A real pleasure. You can’t help but think of the duo of Tommy Jarrell & Fred Cockerham. The choice of pieces is excellent: classics (June Apple, Old Joe Clark, Sail Away Ladies) and some surprises, unknown or little known versions (like Fort Smith Breakdown or Hog Eyed Man). Hunter sings with a voice as rough as you could wish for, supported by the very pure voice of his wife Féréale on three pieces, including the very beautiful “I Truly Understand”. A superb album, recommended to French old-time music fans.”

Claude also included the album in his Trad Magazine list of the 5 best albums of the year (Thanks a lot Claude!). “Hunter Robertson’s second opus, this time in the company of a fiddler, revisiting the banjo/fiddle repertory. Certainly one of the best current CDs of old-time music.” (my translation)

- Claude Vue for Trad Magazine

Here’s another French one from the magazine Le Cri du Coyote (No. 114):

“Casey Joe ABAIR et Hunter ROBERTSON sont respectivement originaires du Vermont et de Californie (Robertson réside actuellement en France) mais ils jouent de la musique old time des Appalaches. Pour les 17 morceaux traditionnels qui composent If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed (Yodel-Ay-Hee 074), ils citent les artistes qui les leur ont fait connaître (Hobart Smith, Wade Ward, Tommy Jarrell, New Lost City Ramblers, Elizabeth Cotton et beaucoup d’autres). Tout est interprété en duo fiddle/banjo. Hunter Robertson (bjo) chante 7 morceaux d’une voix grave, gutturale et râpeuse. Une harmonie vocale et des choeurs adoucissent quelque peu le chant sur I Truly Understand et Sail Away Ladies qui figurent parmi les titres les plus réussis. Robertson alterne le clawhammer et un style mixte qui intègre du picking (I Truly Understand). Il a un jeu qui respecte et met en valeur la mélodie et sur certains instrumentaux c’est d’avantage le fiddle qui accompagne le banjo plutôt que l’inverse (Last Chance, Sugar Baby). Robertson joue plusieurs titres sur un banjo fretless et quelque fois à des tempos très rapides (Run Slave Run, Lonesome John). Il utilise une syncope originale, apparemment accompagnée de notes tirées sur The Devil’s Dream et Sandy River Belles. Le style de CJ Abair au fiddle est plus classique, avec une mélodie un peu tronquée quand le banjo est en avant. Mon morceau favori est cependant June Apple mené par le fiddle, comme le sont Old Joe Clark et Lonesome John, également assez réussis. Il faut une ou deux écoutes pour se faire a la voix d’Hunter Robertson mais cet album n’est pas forcement réservé aux amateurs de old time hard-core!”

Casey Joe Abair and Hunter Robertson are from, respectively, Vermont and California (Robertson currently lives in France) but they play old-time music from the Appalachians. For the 17 traditional pieces that make up If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed (Yodel-Ay-Hee 074) they list the artists that they learned from (Hobart Smith, Wade Ward, Tommy Jarrell, The New Lost City Ramblers, Elizabeth Cotton and lots of others). All are played as a fiddle/banjo duet. Hunter Robertson (banjo) sings seven pieces in a deep, rough, guttural voice. Harmony and backing vocals soften the singing somewhat on ‘I Truly Understand’ and ‘Sail Away Ladies’, which are among some of the most successful pieces. Robertson switches between clawhammer and a mixed style which includes fingerpicking (‘I Truly Understand’). His playing respects and highlights the melody and on some instrumentals it’s more the fiddle that accompanies the banjo than the other way around (‘Last Chance’, ‘Sugar Baby’). Robertson plays several tunes on a fretless banjo, sometimes at a very fast pace (‘Run Slave Run’, ‘Lonesome John’) and has an original sense of syncopation. CJ Abair’s style on the fiddle is more classic, with the melody slightly abbreviated when the banjo is up front. My favorite piece though is ‘June Apple’ led by the fiddle, as are ‘Old Joe Clark’ and ‘Lonesome John’, also fairly well done. It takes a listen or two to get used to Robertson’s voice but this album isn’t necessarily limited to hardcore old-time fans! (my translation)

Cri du Coyote

Going back to August, there was one in Germany’s Country Home:

“Dem primitiven, unnachahmlichen Stil der Appalachen haben sich diese zwei Interpreten hier angenommen. Und genauso primitiv wirkt der Gesang auf ihrem Tonträger. Gerade deshalb verdienen die zwei aber uneingeschränkte Aufmerksamkeit. Denn Simplizität kann nie gleichgesetzt werden mit Anspruchlosigkeit. Was die beiden hier bieten, ist vom Feinsten, auch wenn viele Zuhörer damit wahrscheinlich nichts anfangen können. Nur wenige begreifen, wie unglaublich sensibel das Gefiddle von Casey Joe Abair neben dem Clawhammer-Banjo von Hunter Robertson ist. Und wie gut sich die beiden Musiker ergänzen. Mit von der Partie sind so bekannte Stücke wie „Bonaparte’s Retreat“ oder „Old Joe Clark“. Und jetzt weiss ich auch, wie mein einfacher, aber raffinierter Blues-Song „Sugar Baby“ im Appalachen-Stil klingt. Ebenso genial, nämlich.”

- Country Home

From this month in MazzMusikaS, written by Fred Schmale.

Hunter Robertson / Sings Songs For The Masses / Eigen Beheer Casey Joe Abair & Hunter Robertson / If You Want To Go To Sleep, Go To Bed / Yodel-Ay-Hee 074 (www.hunterrobertson.com) Hunter Robertson (1972) is geboren in California, verhuisde met zijn van origine Schotse vader in 1986 naar de Haute Savoie in Frankrijk en begon weer een paar jaar later interesse te krijgen in gitaarspelen. Pa kocht een 6-snarige Epiphone voor hem en leerde hem de eerste beginselen van het spel, compleet met Carter Family tokkelwerk. Uiteindelijk kreeg hij een 12-snarige gitaar van zijn vader en die gitaar is nog altijd zijn belangrijkste gitaar. Het echte instrument van zijn vader was de banjo, die hij bespeelde in de ‘clawhammer’ stijl. Hunter raakte op den duur geïnteresseerd in dit instrument en de clawhammer speelstijl en dat instrument bespeelt hij op de meeste nummers van de bovenstaande twee cd’s. De eerste cd, Sings Songs For The Masses, bevat solo-opnamen uit de jaren 2001-2007. Hunter bespeelt naast de banjo een keur aan andere instrumenten, uiteraard ook zijn 12-snarige gitaar. Van de 14 nummers zijn er 7 traditionals (waaronder bekende nummers als Pretty Polly, Soldier’s Joy en Bonaparte’s Retreat), 6 van de hand van Hunter en het nummer Red Wing van Mills/Chattaway. De muziek is traditioneel, lees begin 20e eeuw, Hunter’s zang is heel apart en past wonderwel goed bij zijn muziek. Een geluid dat diep uit zijn keel komt en klinkt alsof hij te lang onder de grond heeft gezeten in een kolenmijn, behoorlijk gruizig dus. Maar o zo passend. Hunter, die sinds mei van dit jaar (na een verblijf op Kreta om een oud dorpshuis te restaureren en vervolgens in Vermont in de USA) weer een onderkomen in Frankrijk heeft (dicht bij de Zwitserse grens) heeft afgelopen september een duet cd uitgebracht met de fiddler Casey Joe Abair, die hij tijdens zijn verblijf in Vermont had leren kennen. Abair is behalve fiddler ook een goede bluesgitarist en een uitstekend vertolker van Ierse muziek op fiddle en melodeon. Op deze in de eigen huiskamers van de heren in Vermont opgenomen cd staan 17 traditionals die allen in duetvorm worden gespeeld, old-timey fiddle/banjo duets, zoals men dat in de Appalachians placht (en ook pleegt) te doen. Op een paar nummers is er hulp van buitenaf, Hunters Franse vrouw Féréale (is dat zo?) zingt op een drietal nummers mee en ene Josh Neilson doet ‘stomping’ in Ducks On The Millpond. Ook deze cd ademt de sfeer van ruim een eeuw terug en kent een aantal bekende nummers: wederom Bonaparte’s Retreat, maar ook The Coo Coo, Old Joe Clark, Sail Away Ladies, In The Pines en Lonesome John. Het is verrassend originele muziek die is te horen op beide cd’s. Ga eens luisteren naar deze sympathieke Schots/Amerikaanse Fransman of Schots/Franse Amerikaan Beide cd-verpakkingen zijn voorzien van technische informatie over de instrumenten en de gebruikte stemming (FS)

- Fred Schmale for MazzMusikaS

And finally, from Bluegrass Bühne – Old-Time & Bluegrass Magazine (Dec./Jan. 2009/10, No. 174), written by Eberhard Finke. (The same issue also had a separate article on me. Thanks guys!)

Hunter ist mit seinem Old Time Banjo solo in Voorthuizen und in La Roche-sur-Foron aufgetreten, er lebt jetzt in Frankreich; diese CD hat er in den USA mit einem befreundeten Old Time Fiddler aus Vermont aufgenommen. Die meisten Titel kennen wir aus dem üblichen Repertoire dieses Genres, sie einzeln aufzuführen ist nicht immer sinnvoll, denn zu manchen Titeln gibt es mehrere Melodien und die gleiche Melodie hat mehrere Titel, nennen wir hier “Sail away Ladies”, anderswo heißt das auch “Sally Ann”, “Don’t you rock me daddy-o” usw. Der “Devil’s dream,” hier hat nicht die von Bill Keith u. a. bekannte Melodie, “Run slave run” war vor der Erfindung der political correctness “Run nigger run”, “Coo coo” ist nicht das Lied mit “She’s a pretty bird… ”. Andererseits haben sie oft ihre Individualität, man kann viele leicht wiedererkennen. Die Quelle ist immer angegeben, ebenso die jeweilige Stimmung von Banjo und Geige, teilweise spielt er ein bundloses Fivestring. Hunter singt auch mit einer ungewöhnlich tiefen, rauen Stimme, manchmal begleitet von seiner Frau Féréale. Was jedem ins Ohr fällt, sind Tempo und Temperament der Interpretation, die beiden schaffen zu zweit einen überraschend kompakten Klang und meistens eine halsbrecherische Geschwindigkeit, die so nicht sein muss, aber kann und darf. Wir finden Authentizität, Verständnis für und Respekt vor der Musik, die sie spielen. Kontakt: www.hunterrobertson.com

- Bluegrass Bühne