“This album is for me an extension of my grandfather’s front porch,” writes Matthew Stallard, a retired English professor, gifted musician and formidable researcher of both traditional music and his own family’s storied history. “It’s a piece of him that I can carry with me that no one can take away from me.”
Stallard calls this collection a “gift” to his Virginia-born grandfather, Hobart Stallard. Hobart was, by turns, a farmer, carpenter, stone mason, coalminer, moonshiner, fiddler and life-long collector and purveyor of what we might today call “mountain music”—songs whose misty origins predate the eras of radio and recording, sometimes by centuries.
The wider world, it seems, paid little attention to Hobart (who died in 1996, at age 101) and countless rural musicians like him. But this changed in the 1970s when an ethnomusicologist named Mark Wilson from Ohio State University knocked on Hobart’s door carrying a tape recorder. Some of the recordings Wilson made appeared in the mid-1990s on a Rounder Records anthology called The Land of Yahoe.
What Hobart’s grandson has done here is vividly reprise ten old-timey tunes from his grandfather’s vast repertoire, even peppering them with a sample or two of Hobart’s original recordings. For this project, Matthew, who (like both his grandfather and father) knows his way around a banjo, as well as the fiddle and mandolin, gathered a handful of musicians in a West Virginia studio, including his son Grant on guitar.
What Matthew and his collaborators have done is breathe fresh emotional vitality and a robust sense of celebration into timeless tunes such as “Stackalee,” “Black Eyed Susie,” “Red Bird,” “John Lewis,” “Reckless Ramblin’ Boys,” “Cluck Old Hen,” “Whoa Mule” and “East Virginia.”
As a bonus, Matthew has included copious liner notes that capture in chronicle the hazy origins of these hand-me-down folk tunes and the colorful and often adventurous life of his banjo-picking granddad.