Wolves a-Howling/Sally Cooper/Wild Bill Jones/Bill Brown/Lost Boy/Sail Away Ladies/Fortune/Salt River/Yellow Barber/Buck Hoard/Fox Hunt/8th of January/The Cuban Two-Step Rag/The Drunkard's Hiccups/Buffalo Girls/Masanga Nija/The Blackest Crow/Indian Squaw/Arkansas Traveler/Brushy Fork
Last summer at the Appalachian Stringband Festival in Clifftop, WestVirginia, I noticed that I had pounded down my tent stakes no more than 50 feel away from Bruce Molsky's campsite. I knew this was good fortune. Just a fewmonths earlier I had heard his latest CD and after just one listen knew that it would find its way onto my year-end top-ten list for my radio show. Not only did it make the list, but it ended up being my number one oldtime release of the year. That CD was Lost Boy.
According to Paul Brown in the liner notes to the CD, Bruce Molsky grew up in New York City. A Doc Watson album given to him when he was eleven started him on a journey; a personal exploration of southern traditional music. His tools for this exploration were fiddle, banjo, guitar and voice. His mentor's were not instructors, but seminal oldtime fiddle players such as Tommy Jarrell, Albert Hash and John Sayler. Bruce today is a master of all four instruments, and all are featured on this CD.
Witnessing this man fiddle a tune live is to experience music to its fullest. To see him sitting down on his campstool, hunched over his fiddle and sawing away like a man possessed brings on emotions that I can hardly describe. Luckily though, the brilliance of this CD is that it captures much of this passion.
I believe the best way to experience Bruce in his element is to listen to one of the solo fiddle tunes, such as the tune "Buck Hoard." It's here that I can almost feel this fiddler in the room with me. The notes flow out of his fiddle with such fluidity that I get the strange feeling that anyone could play that well, and at the same time I think that what he is doing is not humanly possible. It's a strange paradox, one that leads me to understand why people used to refer to this instrument as the "devil's box," although I believe its origins are much more heavenly.
Another highlight from this recording is the lead-off track, "Wolves A-Howling," which features Bruce on fiddle and vocals, with his wife Audrey accompanying him on guitar. The song starts off with a nice droney fiddle acting as a duet with Bruce's voice. After the lyrics end, Audrey joins into the song with her spirited rhythm guitar playing. From here the tune takes off into an uptempo tune learned from the Stripling Brothers of Pickens County, Alabama.
An unusual version of "Sail Away Ladies," the old Uncle Dave Macon standard, on solo fingerpicked guitar with vocals by Bruce and Audrey shows not only the versatility but the creativity and sensitivity of this man. Bruce then picks up the fiddle again and joins Dirk Powell and his fretless banjo for a fiery version of "The 8th of January," a fiddle tune from the black stringband tradition that was later transformed into the country mega-hit "The Battle of New Orleans" for Johnny Horton. Don't even try to sing along with this one though. Not only will you get winded quickly, but you'll miss the exciting interplay between these two fabulous instruments and musicians.
If it's speed you are looking for, look no further than this duo's instrumental version of "Arkansas Traveler." I swear that about halfway through this cut my CD player complained that it was getting a cramp from trying to keep up. One of my favorite cuts on the album is "The Blackest Crow." This song features Carla Gover and Bruce on vocals with some beautiful, oldtime accompaniment on the fiddle. With the use of the old technique of playing with drones the fiddle sounds as if it is dueting with itself. More than any other song on this CD, this one, which comes to Bruce from the legendary Surry County, NC fiddle player Tommy Jarrell, makes me want to go out and just sit on the back porch and sing...and I can't sing.
It's no surprise by now that I'd recommend this CD Twangin's to readers.Anyone interested in the roots of country music (and where it has gone since then) should thoroughly enjoy this CD. Lost Boy is an impressive CD for both the uninitiated and the experienced in the world of oldtime music.