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Private Label DTM011

I really warmed to their enjoyable debut in 2007, and the successor from Down Trodden String Band doesn’t disappoint, building as it does on regular playing with an unchanged line-up, despite the fact that fiddle n’ frets player Stuart Wade divides his time between his other home in Asheville, North Carolina and the band’s base in Derbyshire. If pigeon-holing is your thing, ‘old-time country music’ is the category and this four-piece has been in operation since the turn of the century, jamming and gigging at sessions, clubs, and festivals.

This CD features the template fiddle, guitar, banjo and mandolin string band combination that sounds so authentic in the hands of the DTSB that you’d swear you were listening to a US outfit. The traditional Casey Jones sets the standard dauntingly high from the outset and typifies the intuitive understanding of the genre that this unit does more than justice to. The spiritual core of the band lies in Appalachian mountain music and it hits with a light touch. The sweetly choogling lope of If The River Was Whisky draws on Charlie Poole’s 1930 version of Hesitation Blues, whilst Cluck Old Hen just glides, seemingly suspended in mid-air with Helmut Rheingans’ banjo taking centre stage. ‘Loose but tight’ sums up the non-strident nature of the way the band tackles its repertory. To quote Ricky Skaggs: “anybody can play fast, what matters is playing together.”

Their material embraces universal themes – sad reflections, resigned confessionals and everyday people living through hard times with resilience (Gospel Ship) and humour (Yum Yum Blues). What is the sentimental Civil War era song Faded Coat Of Blue if not social history set to music? The humanity of these vibrant songs always shines through; deeply felt music which will sit happily next to anyone’s well-played copy of Uncle Dave Macon’s Early Recordings. An album so rewarding that you resent the end of its final track!

Clive Pownceby

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This album was reviewed in Issue 119 of The Living Tradition magazine.