The subtitle of this very enjoyable CD is “A daughter’s take on her father’s tunes.” Madeline Levy’s introductory essay, liner notes, and her fiddling style, all emphasize the tradition from which the tunes on this all-instrumental album derive. Her father, Bertram Levy, was playing many of these tunes with the Hollow Rock String Band fifty years ago. The elder Levy learned them directly from musicians such as Henry Reed, Oscar Wright, Earl Collins, and H.O. Jenkins. However, the tunes go farther back in oral and written tradition: Reed learned many of his tunes from Quince Dillon in the 19th century, and H.O. Jenkins was the son of Oscar Jenkins and grandson of Frank Jenkins (who recorded with DaCosta Woltz’s Southern Broadcasters in 1927). Some tunes played here are found in written versions as early as the 1830s.
But what does the music sound like? These are three very skilled musicians whose technique never gets in the way of the tune itself. This is a three-piece band, Madeline on fiddle, Bertram on banjo or concertina, and Chris Cooper ably playing understated backup guitar. The emphasis is on the melody instruments. The very first cut, “Sandy River Belle” from Dad Blackard of the Shelor Family, starts with fiddle and banjo doubling the melody; about the third time through the banjo switches to playing simple chords down the neck, keeping the rhythm going, and letting the fiddle ring out, and later you hear banjo playing harmony notes. This is not the “play it through the same way every time” approach – there is always something new! Another tune played using this approach is “Lady of Elegance,” a renaming of the racist title “High Yellow”—compare their approach, if you can, to the fiddle and banjo duet played by Woodring and Neithammer on Ray Alden’s “Young Fogies” album.
You will hear a lot of tunes that you know, but always with a fresh approach, such as “Mississippi Sawyer” and “Ducks on a Pond” (another Henry Reed tune). New to my ears were “One More River to Cross,” learned from Wilson Douglas via Franklin George, and “The Route,” a version of the “Virginia Reel” from Bert Edwards via Kirk Sutphin. And unlike most old-time CDs, there are three jigs, each with known composers (including a Bertram Levy original), played as a medley. I learned a lot from the well-written liner notes, thanks!
If, as I hope, you buy this CD, you will hear a lot of good music and come away with a stronger sense of the continuity between us, the revivalists who play tunes like this at Clifftop and other festivals, the creators who gave us these tunes as many as two centuries ago, and the musicians in between.