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ART GALBRAITH - Dixie Blossoms

ROGER COOPER - Essence of Old Kentucky

ART GALBRAITH - Dixie Blossoms
Musical Traditions  MTCD509

ROGER COOPER - Essence of Old Kentucky
Musical Traditions  MTCD510

Originally released on Rounder Records, these two recordings and others have now been made available again on CD through the good offices of Rod Stradling and Musical Traditions. They come with copious original notes and photographs, giving a great insight into the old-time fiddle traditions which are documented here. I say documented, because these are field recordings intended for serious contemplation as much as entertainment: each CD comes with an authoritative introduction to the musicians and styles, plus very full notes on the tunes. Fortunately, both Art Galbraith and Roger Cooper are entertaining exponents of their traditions, as well as treasuries of tunes and anecdotes. Note that these CDs are only available from - in the UK at any rate.

Galbraith traces his roots back through two centuries of fiddlers, probably of Scots descent, first documented in Tennessee but moving westward to Art's native Missouri. Galbraith fiddlers have played there ever since. Art was seventy years old when he made this recording, not usually the peak of a fiddler's powers, but from the opening bars of Dixie Blossoms it's clear that he's still a master: beautiful lazy glissando, double stopped harmonies, and a wonderfully light touch characterise this music. The material here is mainly square dance tunes, collected one tune at a time. Billy in the Low Ground, Rocky Mountain Hornpipe, Coming Up the Pike, Sally Johnson and others are old-time standards. There's more local colour in Galbraith compositions Sunday Night Reel, Art's Rag, 4th of July Waltz and more. Tunes such as Flowers of Edinburgh and Waverley probably crossed the sea from Scotland, while Paddy on the Turnpike and Marmaduke's Hornpipe have long since crossed back. There's plenty of swing in Galbraith's music too, still flawlessly executed with a strong right arm.

Roger Cooper plays a different style of old-time, from the bluegrass heartland, recorded quarter of a century after Galbaith when Cooper was in his mid fifties, arguably at his best. The same mix of breakdowns and waltzes prevails, but there's a stronger mountain music strain and quite a bit of Afro-American or native American influence. The non-Western modes of Jim Woodward's, Pretty Little Indian and even Cooper's version of Blackberry Blossom are striking, but not so far from Appalachian melodies here such as Flannery's Dream, Headwaters of Tygart or Yellow Barber. Old European tunes are in this fiddler's repertoire too, such as the lilting hornpipe Queen of the West, but the style of Roger Cooper's music is pure Americana. Cooper and Galbraith complement each other musically, and the differences are as interesting as the similarities. Both fiddlers are accompanied by fine guitarists on most tracks.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 88 of The Living Tradition magazine.