Mary Humphreys of Mardles
reviews Old Virginia by Rattle on the StovepipeYet another blisteringly good album from my favourite Old Time band. If you get depressed by the news headlines that get worse every day, I heartily recommend you buy this album as an antidote. There is hope for the world out there if there is music like this.
The singing led by Dave or Pete sounds authentic - raw, not pretty. You don't want pretty voices for these songs. The music is lovingly played with swing and consummate style by three men who are at the top of their tree in this genre of music. Sara Grey who is well-known in this part of the world has a lot to be thanked for - she taught Dave the children's song from which the band gets their name. They sing a version of it on this CD and I defy anyone to work out what the song is about!
My favourite song on the album has to be Bill Dalton's wife, a sad tale of a wife who dies in labour through her husband's lack of money to pay for medical attention. It is so appropriate that this has been recorded now. Listening to this should remind us of a situation which could still happen today because health care is being whittled away by stealth. Dave put the tune to and adapted three verses written by Don West, who the FBI dubbed "the most dangerous man in the South" because of his activism on behalf of working folk. Bravo Dave!
Dan Stewart's frailing banjo, Pete Cooper's fiddle and Dave Arthur's guitar or melodeon revel in such wonderful tunes as Chinquapin Hunting, a tune of eccentric length with some lovely tricky corners learnt by Pete in North Carolina and Coleman's March - a tune written on the way to the scaffold by a wrongly-condemned man. Here Pete tunes his fiddle so that he can play wonderful discords that resolve to release the tension. I just have to keep listening to this track over and over! Sandy Boys is a haunting compilation of traditional verses that have been selected for their singability in polite society, sung with a smile in his voice by Dave. Most of the songs were written or compiled by Dave from various traditional sources. They are varied in mood, subject and instrumentation and demonstrate his deep and extensive knowledge of this genre of traditional music. The last track on the album - The Gypsy Girl- is one which folks on this side of the Atlantic will recognise immediately as having practically the same words as the Joseph Taylor version but an intriguingly different tune which Dave explains in the extensive and informative sleeve notes.
This gets my vote of Best Album of the Year. They are going to be at Whitby Folk Festival. I can't wait to see them again.