You can’t be more long-time friends than growing up in the same town and playing music together from the time you were young.
Riley and Kirk are part of the living aural tradition, the true vine of old-time music. They learned from players who were generations older than themselves and have played the music native to their home, since taking up music. Here they serve notice, as much as they ever would, that this is their music, their tradition.
Both men are accomplished banjo players and fiddlers. They ably demonstrate that here. We start out with a couple of spot on readings of Round Peak favorites, featuring Riley’s banjo and vocals with Kirk’s fiddling. We are treated to Riley’s fine fiddling on “Last Of Callahan,” a Kentucky tune first recorded by Wm. Stepp. Then they turn around and take “Riley And Spencer” back toward its African-American roots in a low-down two-guitar tour de force based upon the Rounder Records recording by Fields Ward.
“Evening Star Waltz” steps right along as Kirk nails the high notes with that Round Peak slide and Riley’s bass runs on the guitar (that earned him the name Riley) drive the proceedings along. As he fiddles this set, Kirk echoes the fiddlers who came before him, but also places his stamp on each tune. His versions of the Round Peak tunes here stand as a benchmark for the tradition. His rivals are few. His banjo playing covers both the clawhammer and fingerstyle approaches that marked the region’s styles over time. He is probably the most accomplished exponent of Frank Jenkins’ three-finger-style out there today. Riley’s banjo playing draws from the well with a rich touch, perhaps favoring Fred Cockerham more than others.
They cast a wide and deep net in their tune selections. Wade Ward’s “A Married Man’s Blues,” taken from a test pressing that had disappeared for sometime, is a welcome piece. Riley sings the melody, bending notes with his voice and then doing quite the same with his fiddle. All the while, Kirk’s banjo chugs along holding it all together very nicely.
There are 23 cuts here, drawing heavily from the Round Peak tradition and repertory. Kirk and Riley are deeply rooted in this home tradition. Riley has ventured out of it a bit here to bring in music from other areas while Kirk has mined the tradition to new depths. They know how to present their music with a subtle twist that puts it in a new light and brings out aspects that would otherwise be missed. Singing “Birdie,” known more today as fiddle and not the old song, casts it in a whole light.
There are a lot of folks out there who play old-time in the Round Peak tradition, but these gentlemen were born and bred to it. The tradition is them and they are it. They can no more leave it behind than they leave themselves behind. We are treated here to true old-time music played like few others can. (Old Blue Records, 4300 Elmstone Rd., Midlothian, VA 23113.) RCB