What I like about the music and musical attitude of western North Carolina is that there’s much less of a distinction between bluegrass and old-time music there than in other parts of the country. In some areas, bluegrass is bluegrass and old-time is old-time and there’s not much shared except for the older fiddle tunes. But in western North Carolina, and in parts of eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia for that matter, the two genres often blend nearly as one on many occasions. I have had conversations about this with guitar great Bryan Sutton, who grew up near Asheville and gladly combines the two genres whenever possible.
Spencer Branch is a band based in Ashe County, hence the album’s title Ashe County Outlaws. Ashe County is located next to Watauga County, which was the home of Doc Watson who also regularly blended bluegrass and old-time together. The group includes the brother and sister team of multi-instrumentalist and singer Martha Spencer and fiddler Kilby Spencer, along with another multi-instrumentalist and singer, Kelley Breiding. Martha and Kilby grew up in a family group known as the Whitetop Mountain Band.
The trio brings to life classic tunes such as “Grey Eagle,” “Tennessee Wagoner,” and “Stagger Lee” in fun and fired-up fashion. Among the original tunes written for this album, the wonderful title-cut brings to life some tall tales that include references to real places in Ashe County. The guests on this excellent recording include Chris Henry on mandolin, Jeff Michael on mandolin, guitar, bass, and fiddle, Kyle Dean Smith on resonator guitar and bass, Alex Leach on banjo, and Debbie Bramer on bass. (www.spencerbranchband.com)DH