Native & Fine Records
“Thank goodness there are only three parts,” says Fletcher Bright as he kicks off the old-time fiddle tune “Elzic’s Farewell.” I mentally responded, “How could anyone tell, Fletcher, since all fiddle tunes sound alike?” (Badda bing!) Actually, the 16 tunes on Songs That Are Mostly Older Than Us definitely do not sound alike. Fletcher and Bill Evans have chosen well, mixing the obscure “American Rifle Team Hornpipe” with the popular “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” and the hopelessly crooked “Hannah In The Spring House” with Arthur Smith’s oh-so-straight “Sugar Tree Stomp.” They also wisely include originals such as Bill’s funky “Berkeley Shanghai” and Sam Bush’s “Norman And Nancy.”
Fletcher’s fiddle is front and center, as it should be, since this CD was recorded live at his Tennessee mountain home. Fletcher has a way with a bow, and his energy and love for fiddling are palpable on every tune. He can play it rowdy or he can play it sweet, as he does on the haunting “Heart Of The Heartland.” Bill, an equal partner, takes his own well-crafted solos, provides banjo backup, and often plays in unison with Fletcher. Bill and his Granada have never sounded better, as he pulls a clear, buttery tone that explodes with richness. His expertise is evident as he enhances these complex melodies with solid, well-chosen Scruggs licks and difficult single-string work.
Then to add icing to an already rich cake, we have the considerable talents of Norman and Nancy Blake. Norman’s guitar playing is as sturdy as ever and is a complete pleasure to listen to. Nancy’s cello adds so much warmth and depth that one wonders why Bill Monroe did not make it a primary bluegrass instrument. In fact, the “sleeper cut” for me was a driving arrangement of “Cluck Old Hen,” which starts out with only FB’s fiddle and Nancy’s growling cello. Then Bill makes a powerful entrance, pounding out hammer-ons like John Henry with a steam drill. Who would have thought anyone could have breathed such life into this old chestnut? In short, Songs That Are Mostly Older Than Us is a delightful CD full of surprises. (Native & Fine Records, 6071 Monterey Ave., Richmond, CA 94805, www.billevansbanjo.com.)MHH