Appalachia CD celebrates mountain heritage

Article Published: Sep. 7, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Appalachia CD celebrates mountain heritage

If you were one of the television viewers who enjoyed the recent PBS four part documentary Appalachia: A History of Mountains & People, you probably noticed that the film series utilized authentic yet original recordings to help bring the mountains into your living room.

Now those recordings are the basis of a new compilation album Appalachia: Music from Home, released this month on the Lonesome Records label. The 20 tracks on the album represent the wealth of different music traditions that have come out of the Appalachian Mountains for the past 200 years.

"It was our intent to demonstrate that at the heart of Appalachia there is a very real and powerful 'live music' tradition," said Ron Short, the producer of the new CD. "I think it is fair to say that most of the Appalachian music that is played is never recorded, but exists in a living environment and is passed on through the oral tradition."

Artists who lent their talents to the new CD include Ralph Stanley, Blue Highway, Darrell Scott, Robin & Linda Williams, the Clack Mountain String Band, Dock Boggs, Mitch Barrett, Carl Martin and others.

The album opens with the television series orchestral prelude, as performed by Kenton Coe and the University of Tennessee Symphony, then presents a traditional Corn Dance chant performed by Seneca singers and dancers.

Many of the cuts on the new album deftly show how settlers from the British Isles brought their traditional styles of music with them when the found new homes in the Blue Ridge Mountains. "Haste to the Wedding," "Pretty Saro" and "Last of Callahan" can all trace their musical roots back to the Old Country.

One of the highlights of the new CD is the traditional Scottish love ballad "The Blackest Crow" as sung by 15 year old Molly Slemp of Norton, Va.

"Molly is an 'old-soul' in a young person's body," explained Short. "Her skills belie her age. Her great gift is her voice, but her true talent is the emotional interpretation and passion that she brings to each song she sings."

Slemp's performance is enhanced by the wonderfully mournful fiddling of Kevin Jackson.

Another highlight is the semi-original song "Banjo Clark," songwriter Darrell Scott's unique take on the traditional fiddle tune "Old Joe Clark." Recorded from a live performance at the Carter Family Fold in 2007, the song fairly bristles with electricity, as guitarist Scott, bassist Matt Mangano and fiddler Shad Cobb trade licks and thrill the audience.

Anyone familiar with bluegrass festivals will instantly recognize the song "Roll On Buddy," presented here by the Midnight Ramblers.

"Roll On Buddy," or "Nine Pound Hammer," is a song that has so many origins in folk music that it is almost impossible to determine its true origins," said Short. "There is no doubt that the song was greatly popularized by the singing of Merle Travis, who wrote two new verses. With the magical power of the 'music industry' behind him, he claimed ownership of the song, at least his version-nullifying the contributions of all the earlier musicians who contributed to the song's lyrical and tune development."

The album does a great job of tracing the region's musical history to its church singing roots, nowhere as clearly than with Ralph Stanley's a capella version of "Gloryland," sung with Dan and Judy Marshall.

"If there is such a thing as a living legend, Ralph Stanley probably comes as close as any musician deserving that accolade," said Short. "From the time he started playing music with his brother Carter in the forties, to this collaboration with his grandson, Nathan, Ralph's plaintive tenor voice has never faltered, and his style has remained true throughout his 60-year history of playing music.

"For many people, hearing Ralph Stanley sing 'Gloryland' is as close to heaven as one can come here on this earth."

Containing 20 tracks, Appalachia: Music from Home is available at stores and through the Web site,

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