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BRUCE MOLSKY - If It Ainít Here When I Get Back

BRUCE MOLSKY - If It Ainít Here When I Get Back
Tree Frog Music TF1301

Bruce’s first album in seven years could be said to take the form of an aural autobiography, in which he pays tribute to a 45-year-career’s-worth of musical inspirations and fellow-travellers. But it’s also a trip through the state of Versatility wherein Bruce resides: for whether in the houses of fiddle-champ, fiddle-song, guitar wiz, country-blueser or banjo-wielding old-timer, Bruce’s equally at home, indeed master of all. Bruce is also the proud and natural sharer of that common pulse, the heartbeat of “global folk”, on this set of intimate new recordings, entirely self-produced by this “avowed do-it-yourselfer” and exuding a relaxed, natural vibe to every nuance.

Even so, it might be thought the bravest of gambits to decide to open the disc with a disaster ballad, albeit a particularly fine modern example of one such, Wreck Of The Dandenong, which Bruce heard from Kate Burke (and was recorded by her mother Mary in 1954), and here he self-accompanies tellingly on the fiddle. That instrument is kept out of its case for around half of the disc, during which Bruce delivers rattlingly showpiece performances of vibrant sets of tunes including some we thought hoary or hors-concours (Bonaparte’s Retreat, Growling Old Man) as well as a fabulous take on Craig Johnson’s little-heard story-song Piney Mountains.

Bruce takes up the banjo for a trip along New Cut Road, takes on the primordial old-time heritage on Johnny Booger and whirls Sally Ann around the ol’ dance floor in fine style. Finally, the guitar becomes the focus for a small handful of cuts mostly taking in blues and ragtime; pick of the guitar cuts, however, turns out to be Joseph Spence’s cheeky Bimini Gal with its sprightly happy-all-the-time Bahamian vibe, tho’ I also rather liked Bruce’s account of Glenn Ohrlin’s arguably over-romanticised portrait of The Cowboy. I’m not convinced that even Bruce has much new to say about Shady Grove or even Cumberland Gap, but he never fails to please and you just know there’ll be a fresh-minted delight round every next corner.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 96 of The Living Tradition magazine.