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David Kidman of Netrythms

reviews Songs of Old Appalachia by Alice Wylde

This disc is plainly subtitled "authentic, traditional and old time mountain singing", and that’s exactly what you get. Born and raised in West Virginia, right in the heart of the Appalachian Mountain region, Wylde didn’t even leave the area until she was 43, since which time it’s taken several years of persuasion by her husband to get her to capture her voice for posterity (and then only in the wake of several appearances at a Hampshire folk club, where her singing so impressed WildGoose label boss Doug Bailey…).

Wylde comes from a singing family, and learnt all her songs at home (many from her mother, and often without even realising she was learning them!). Some will already be familiar to devotees of the old-time repertoire, and her renditions are invariably fresh, considered and those of a true source singer. There’s also a version of Babes In The Wood that’s deliciously managed (quite in contrast to the lugubrious way this song tends to get treated), and Wylde’s spirited takes on West Virginia Boys and Groundhog lack nothing in straightforward appeal.

But it’s the unfamiliar gems that provide the standouts here, notably the entirely a cappella selections: the intense Heart Of Glass most especially, but additionally Shilohs Hill, Bill Stafford and the ballad of Johnny Doyle. The upbeat Revolutionary Tea, the closing gospel hymn Unclouded Day and the rather Carter-esque cautionary tale of My Old Brown Coat And Me are also real discoveries. For around two-thirds of the disc, Wylde accompanies herself on banjo, often with the benefit of an additional instrumental line by Dan Stewart, who variously plays guitar, fiddle or banjo during the course of the record (and on one track, Wylde’s mother’s own dulcimer).

The only deficiencies of this delightful disc lie in the uncharacteristic total absence of any notes on the songs, and the comparatively ungenerous playing-time (37 minutes). But this is absolutely enchanting down-home music-making, and an essential purchase for aficionados of simple, unaffected old-time music.