Lots of fiddling but no lack of purpose and quality in a lively enjoyable set from a group of musicians steeped in old-time, bluegrass, and folk music.
‘Adeline’, (a feminine name meaning noble or nobility and of French origins) is the second helping of violin I have reviewed recently, both of which remind me of one thing taken from Emma Johns’s book, ‘Wayfaring Stranger: a Musical Journey in the American South‘. That one thing was that there is playing an instrument, in this case a violin, and there is playing an instrument. As John was a technically proficient player there should not have been too much of a problem transferring her skills (nice to get a trendy buzzword in there) to a different style on the same instrument. How wrong, it transpired, such an assumption was.
On that basis I approached this disc with a renewed sense of respect for the way a good musician can inhabit a given genre – I suppose it’s a sort of ‘can the white man sing the blues’ – the answer being, yes he can, but he can also make a right royal mess of it as well. Given the pedigrees on display here it is to be expected that this offering will be up to the mark.
‘Adeline’, brings together five musicians from four bands whose staple is old-time, bluegrass, and folk music. They are Adrian Gross on mandolin (The Slocan Ramblers), Mark Kilianski on guitar (Golden Shoals), Sam Allison on upright bass and bass harmonica (Sheesham and Lotus), John Showman on fiddle, and Chris Coole on the banjo (The Lonesome Ace Stringband). All concerned were professionally aware of each other but they had never played together previously. The music was put together at a 3-day session in March 2021 in a 70-year-old cabin on the shores of Beaver Lake in the Kawartha Highlands of Ontario – with a final selection of old-time tunes. Checking out the cover photos with the band mired in a snowstorm (evoking expressions from glum to amused ) it is apparent that this is perhaps not so much a case of getting it together in the country – more the wilderness.
Tunes are a mix of old (Ed Haley, Eck Robertson, Lowe Stokes, Ernie Carpenter) and new (Garry Harrison, James Bryan, Bill Monroe, and Kenny Baker). The approach was intended to be free and fluid making use of John Hartford’s, ‘Windows’ system of playing which is described as being, ‘Loosely based on a big band device of changing the texture every eight bars’. For the aficionado, knowledgeable or merely interested there is a further, fuller explanation, here
Luckily for me, this disc dropped through my letterbox during the recent hot spell (heatwave if you will) and it arrived like a cooling blast of fresh air. There are 15 tracks on a disc that lasts nearly 65 minutes – so plenty to appreciate here. The first track, ‘Evening Prayer Blues’, and later, ‘Paul David,’ put me in mind of the Crooked Jades inasmuch as they juggle and stretch the multi-layered sound (I’m never sure if my ‘sounds likes‘ ring any bells). The rest of the album affects a spring-heeled, foot-tapping tempo and the only caveat would be that it would have been nice to have a real change or two in pace at some stage; perhaps some Celtic inspiration via the folk credentials to which the musicians lay claim. The first real change in pace comes courtesy of Bob Pressley’s, ‘Battle of Cedar Creek’, (The Battle of Cedar Creek, fought on October 19, 1864, was the culminating battle of the Valley Campaigns of 1864 during the American Civil War).
Other notable tracks are the particularly melodic, ‘Old Melinda’, and the excellent and sprightly, ‘There’s a Gal Down the Road Somewhere’. The stated aim of the musicians was a ‘spirit of improvisation’. The arrangements happened on the spot and, ‘there was no planning and no safety net. The result was some old-time music that is balanced on a knife-edge, which can go from kick-ass to crazy to vulnerable in a heartbeat’.
You might not detect that degree of range but don’t worry because there is still plenty on offer and it’s great to hear a group of musicians having fun in a simplified setting with acoustic instruments. A highly recommended release.