Now let us praise great regional bluegrass performers of the 1960s, ’70s, and beyond—starting with Mac Martin & the Dixie Travelers. Mac was among the talented performers directly inspired by Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, and other pioneers of the music. Like so many of the second generation—themselves now passing into legend—Mac Martin & the Dixie Travelers found great popularity on the burgeoning festival circuit. And they had a regular local venue where they worked up new material and worked in new members. For the Dixie Travelers, it was Walsh’s Lounge in Mac’s native Pittsburgh, Pa.
These outstanding live performances were captured by fan Fred Pement, operating a tape recorder in front of the stage. The sound quality is quite good, and it helps that the audiences were attentive to the marvelous music being created in front of them. (Praise must also go to the disc’s superb mastering by Wes Homner-Rosewood Studio.)
The Dixie Travelers had strong lineups over the years, and this is one of the best: Mac on guitar and lead vocals, Bob Artis (author of the pioneering 1975 book Bluegrass) on mandolin and tenor, Mike Carson on fiddle and baritone, banjoist Bill Bryant, and bass player Frank Basista.
If you love strong, straight-ahead bluegrass, you’ll delight at Mac’s skills as a front man. His genial and sincere voice croons smoothly or expresses incisive lonesomeness as needed, while he supports the band with impeccable rhythm guitar.
Listening to the album, I kept feeling that if Mac Martin & the Dixie Travelers came onto the bluegrass scene today, they’d still get a rousing reception. There’s not a weak track here. Among the standout vocals are “Why Do You Weep Dear Willow?” by Gona Blankenship and Lynn Davis and Mac’s original “Does It Have to Be This Way?,” a real gem in the Stanley Brothers mode. Billy picks a hard and shiny version of “Salt Creek,” with Mike fiddling a rollicking “Lee Highway Blues.”
Mac recorded for such prominent country/bluegrass labels as Rural Rhythm and County, and most recently released A Dark Starless Night in 2001. Happily, many of his recordings are available online. (Producer Bob Colleran points us to CD Baby as the prime releasing source for this live album.) As of this writing, Mac is still with us at age 94. May he enjoy the accolades—and new fans—this wonderful collection will surely bring him. (www.cdbaby.com)RDS