Sometimes good things—really good things—come in simple packages. Old Molly Hare represents a model of calm simplicity—clawhammer banjo well played without flash or show, pleasant vocals, and well-executed guitar backup (with a couple of mandolin pieces thrown in).
The tunes and songs here do not seem to come from a road-weathered music celebrity as much as a patient, gifted teacher. Clayton Jones sounds as though he is as prone to singing and playing for school assemblies as on big stages. He has a great touch on banjo, and he intended this CD, as he comments in the liner notes, for “old-time music fans who love the sweet sound of clawhammer banjo.” Angelee Krieger, still just in her teens, a music student for several years, does a remarkable job playing backup guitar for her mentor on all but two of the songs and tunes (where she ably solos on mandolin to his guitar). Her guitar playing at times sounds like intricate and tasteful counterpoint as much as standard backup.
A good sampling of material is found here: Fifteen old-time songs and tunes, ranging from southern Appalachian to melodic clawhammer to Celtic-flavored reels. There are nonsense songs (“Fod!”) and an old fourteenth century child ballad ““Old Baggum” (also known as “Old Bangum” or “Wild Hog in the Woods”). “Nancy,” learned via Ken Perlman’s playing via Howie Bursen, traces back to the piper Tom Clough of Northumberland, England. The dance tune “Old Jawbones” has a nice lilt.
I found the liner notes some of the best I’ve seen lately: Well-written, full of sources and tunings, and offering interesting tidbits. The sources indicate something about Jones’s immersion in traditional music for decades: The New Lost City Ramblers, John Burke, Peggy and Mike Seeger, and Hollow Rock String Band, to name only several.
The liner notes even tell stories about many of the pieces, like the explanation for one of the CD’s semi-original tunes, “Cold Frosty Evening”: The tune, writes Jones, “was constructed out of memory as a vague recollection of ‘Cold Frosty Morning’ after hearing people play it at a festival. One day Greg Jowaisas and I were picking some tunes and I said, ‘Let’s play “Cold Frosty Morning.”’ He said, ‘OK,’ and as I had the banjo at the moment I launched into the tune. It didn’t take long before Greg got a funny look on his face and said, ‘Um, that’s not “Cold Frosty Morning.”’ I stood corrected but still liked the tune so I decided to call it ‘Cold Frosty Evening’ and continue to play it.” I’m glad! It’s a great tune.
And Jones tells how he himself interacted with his sources as he learned some of the tunes, as when he made his way through the slightly cryptic tab for “Sailing Ladies” (known usually as “Sail Away Ladies”) in The John Burke Book of Old Time Fiddle Tunes for Banjo.
Some other highlights: The title song showcases Jones’s congenial voice and he has supplemented the traditional lyrics with some of his own. It’s one of four vocal numbers. Jones has such a good voice that I wouldn’t have minded a bit if he had included one more vocal piece.
While the playing of Jones and Krieger is strong and enjoyable in its own right, I can see more reasons this CD should find its way to many more banjo players: the tracks model fine playing for learners, and the range of tunes and the description of sources in the notes will help aspiring players. Through excellent tunes expertly played and well-explained, the skills of Jones the teacher come across again and again.
Song List: Old Molly Hare, Old Jawbones, Nancy, Cold Frosty Evening, Pigeon on the Gatepost/Mrs. Mulligan, Georgia Railroad, Sandy River Belle, Old Baggum, Something, Sailing Ladies, Rudy’s Reel, Texas Quickstep, Liza Jane, Butternut Hill, Fod!
To order: http://www.cjcom.net/M_OldTimeMusic.htm
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