Derek Gifford of Folk Northwest
reviews Songs of Old Appalachia by Alice WyldeIt says on the cover of this début CD from Alice Wylde 'Authentic traditional and old time mountain singing'. You could be forgiven for dismissing this rather trite description of what is actually an outstanding recording.
In fact this is a stunning album from Alice, a genuine born and bred Appalachian from Virginia who should be regarded as a prime source singer of this genre. Also, this is not a recording that should be regarded just for archive purposes either because Alice is a shear pleasure to listen to.
Her singing is clear in both voice quality and diction and her playing is of the highest quality. Whether singing unaccompanied or with banjo accompaniment she has a very relaxed and confident approach. OK so it's a banjo she plays but, what the heck, at least it's what many Appalachians play; so no banjo jokes please. She is also joined on a few tracks by Dan Stewart who also plays banjo and guitar, dulcimer and fiddle.
The songs range from the fairly well known 'West Virginia Boys', 'Babes in the Wood' (very different from the Copper Family version but definitely from the same origin) and a well performed version of 'Groundhog'.
Songs new to me were the intriguing tale of 'Bill Stafford', the story of the Civil War battle on 'Shiloh's Hill' and the moving 'Heart of Glass' in which Alice excels in that style of old timey lamentatious singing that marks it out from all the other American traditions. This is at its best story telling through song.
A particularly interesting song is 'Revolutionary Tea' which maybe regarded as a precursor to the Boston Tea Party from the point of view of a mother and daughter living on separate sides of the Atlantic.
I have picked out only a selection of the eleven tracks on this album but all are quite superb as examples of the songs from this part of the world. The CD cover is illustrated by some lovely photographs of Alice's home area in Appalachia and gives a lot of useful and interesting background information on Alice but, sadly, nothing about the songs which would have been very useful information. (Alice’s only knowledge of the songs is that ‘she learned them from her family’ – Doug Bailey)
Those of you who know me well know I'm very much a singer and promoter of the English traditional style which I feel should always be first and foremost in our minds as a folk community but is it also a pleasure to listen to an American tradition that is so very well represented by the likes of Alice Wylde.