Old-Timey Fiddle & Banjo Duets
(Click on the titles in puce to sample the wares. Liner notes towards the bottom.)
2. The Coo Coo
3. Fort Smith Breakdown
4. June Apple
5. I Truly Understand
6. Bonaparte's Retreat
7. Last Chance
8. Hog Eyed Man
9. Old Joe Clark
10. Run Slave Run
11. Sail Away Ladies
12. Tater Patch
13. Sandy River Belle
14. Ducks on the Millpond
15. Sugar Baby
16. In the Pines
17. Lonesome John
~ Sing Out! Magazine: “...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. ...Terrific packaging and liner notes, with brief historical sources on each song and banjo tunings. A highly engaging selection, well played.”
~ Trad Magazine: "... Certainly one of the best current CDs of old-time music.”
~ Maverick Magazine: "Fast-paced picking carried off in such a confident and prolific way that simply leaves you gob smacked... A highly recommended album which I strongly urge you to try and track down."
~ Times Ain't Like They Used to Be: "... 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."
~ Rambles.Net: "... Their music is bright, vivid and lovely. If you find yourself nodding off through Sleep, see your doctor.”
~ Old Woodchuck: "... the old tunes played with the fire and enthusiasm they really deserve but seldom get these days..."
Hunter Robertson was born in California with a banjo on his knee, and has been playing clawhammer & old-time fingerstyle banjo - and 12-string guitar - for not quite as long as he can remember. This is his second album. Sings Songs for the Masses, the first, an album of traditional and original material, was released in 2007 to good reviews ("… a highly talented traditional musician ... as strong a solo CD as I’ve heard in quite some time." - Sing Out! "... one of the best CDs I've heard recently." - Trad Magazine). As of May 2009 he’s based in France.
Casey Joe Abair hails from Vermont and has been playing fiddle since he was a teenager. He's also an accomplished performer of Irish music on the melodeon and fiddle as well as playing a mean blues guitar. This is his first recording.
Album liner notes:
This 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. Luckily, they fit the song. Otherwise what you hear is unadulterated fiddle & banjo, as we played it. There's nothing quite like working a tune out with someone, tight, and then playing it for all it's worth. There's a trade-off with the liberties you can take when you're on your own but it has advantages.
If you want to go to sleep, go to bed was apparently a favorite saying of Charlie Lowe, who liked his music fast.
- The Devil's Dream as Hobart Smith called it, appropriately enough. It's a doozy. ‘John Brown's Dream’, ‘Little Rabbit’, ‘Herve Brown's Dream’ and ‘Pretty Little Miss’ are other names it goes by. Fiddle: AEAE, Banjo: aEAC#E (we're both tuned low, all the tunings I give here are relative).
- The Coo Coo Fiddle: AEAE, Banjo: aEADE. A combination of the great versions of the tune by John Snipes, Dink Roberts and Rufus Kasey on the album Black Banjo Songsters. Similar to Hobart Smith's.
- Fort Smith Breakdown from Luke Highnight's Ozark Strutters. Fiddle: GDAE, Banjo: gDGDE (fretless Harmony Reso-Tone). An interesting tune with a peculiar low part.
- June Apple Fiddle: AEAE, Banjo: aEAC#E. Wade Ward's playing is astonishing, seemingly simple but nearly impossible to duplicate (and I haven't tried here). He had a golden touch. There's also a great version from Fred Cockerham that's pretty wild. My father used to play this one too.
- I Truly Understand Fiddle: AEAE, Banjo: aEAC#E. And of course Féréale's lovely singing. You could probably put together several albums of songs that use these vagrant verses (in fact, some of them crop up here in ‘The Coo Coo’), but a great song it is just the same. Shortbuckle Roark & Family is the fount from which this springs. I first heard it from The New Lost City Ramblers.
- Bonaparte's Retreat Fiddle: ADAD, Banjo: aDADE (fretless). There are lots of great recordings of this tune (Smith, Davenport, Jarrell, Gray, Strong etc.), but Bill Stepp's is sublime.
- Last Chance “Title of this tune's ‘The Last Chance’, something all of us will have before we die I guess, a last chance,” is how Hobart Smith introduced this at a 1963 concert in New York City. Fiddle: GDAE, Banjo: gEGDE. Casey had to eek a fiddle tune out of the banjo playing. A kissing cousin to ‘Rambling Hobo’ and Dock Boggs' ‘Davenport’.
- Hog Eyed Man Fiddle: AEAE, Banjo: aEADE. A wild tune. Also called, unsurprisingly, ‘Sally in the Garden’. Lyrics for this are hard to come by, most of them being too bawdy for polite collectors. Sex, fundament shaking flatulence and feats of urination that boggle the mind all show up. Luther Strong's playing of it is phenomenal; Hiram Stamper's is another great one. I like J.D. Cornett's singing of the song too.
- Old Joe Clark Not the chestnut it can sometimes seem. If you get beyond the hackneyed way it's often treated there's gold in this tune. This is something like Dacosta Woltz's Southern Broadcasters version, but check out Marcus Martin's and Luther Strong's playing of it too. Fiddle: AEAE, Banjo: aEAC#E
- Run Slave Run Fiddle: GDAE, Banjo: gDGDE (fretless). We got this from Elizabeth Cotton. There's also a great field-recording on fife (or quills?) around. Slave is of course a euphemism here for the original word, nigger. “Pateroller get ya.” One of the most common tunes reported in ex-slave narratives. Robert Winans has a great article summarizing musical data in the WPA interviews. Those interviews give good examples of why freedom and human rights have to be demanded not only for oneself, but for others.
- Sail Away Ladies A joyful song learnt from The Holy Modal Rounders and Uncle Dave Macon. Fiddle: AEAE, Banjo: aEAC#E. Some lyrics from the books Step it Down and Negro Folk Rhymes. Also called ‘Darneo’, ‘Dineo’, ‘Sally Anne’ etc. Don't sheetrock that patio!
- Tater Patch Fiddle: AEAE, Banjo: aEAC#E (fretless). Charlie Lowe is the source on this one of course and ultimately I believe, Ike Leonard. Another one that Casey had to adapt from the banjo playing.
- Sandy River Belle Casey learned this from George Stoneman’s banjo recording, changed the key and passed it on to me. Fiddle: GDAE, Banjo: aDADE (fretless).
- Ducks on the Millpond Fiddle: GDAE, Banjo: aDADE (fretless). A gorgeous tune, could play it for hours. I first heard it from my father. Kyle Creed, Emmett Lundy, Tommy Jarrell and John Burke all informed it.
- Sugar Baby Fiddle: AEAE, Banjo: aEADE. Dock Boggs of course. Damn.
- In the Pines from Leadbelly, Art Rosenbaum, Bill Monroe, Dock Walsh and others. Fiddle: ADAD, Banjo: f#DF#AD (played on an S.S. Stewart strung with Nylgut). A lonesome song.
- Lonesome John Fiddle: AEAE, Banjo: aEADE (fretless). The first real tune my father taught me. He called it ‘Clinch Mountain Backstep’, and got it from the Stanley Brothers for all I know, but he clawhammered it. This is more John Salyer's version.
For further information on the tunes Andrew Kuntz's The Fiddler's Companion is a great resource.
- Hunter Robertson, June 2009
Casey Joe Abair ~ Fiddle, Backing Vocals on ‘Sail Away Ladies’
Hunter Robertson ~ Clawhammer Banjo (fingerpicked on ‘In the Pines’ and ‘Sugar Baby’), Vocals
Fereale Robertson ~ Backing Vocals on ‘I Truly Understand’, ‘Sail Away Ladies’ & ‘In the Pines’
Josh Neilson ~ Stomping on ‘Ducks on the Millpond’
For help and support, thanks to: Josh & Trena, Chris, Féréale, Mary & Dan, Rose, Tony, Jeremy, JP & Meghan, John Herrmann, grandparents, Colin and numberless field collectors and musicians.
Front cover photograph by Féréale Robertson, CD and rear photographs by JP Candelier. CD cover design and layout by Hunter Robertson. All songs and tunes traditional arranged by Hunter Robertson and Casey Joe Abair, ©2009.