The songs on Bruce Molsky's new album, "If I Ain't Here When I Get Back," either came from or were influenced by far-off places like Australia, the Bahamas, Ireland and the U.S. Some are a hundred years old or more, while other tunes are contemporary. Regardless of where they came from or how old they are, Molsky makes them sound like some ancient Appalachian tune that's been handed down from one troubadour to the next for generations.
Known as one of the top old-time fiddlers in the world, Molsky demonstrates his skills by tearing through Rattle Down the Acorns, while the fiddle nicely accompanies his singing on the mournful Wreck of the Dandenong. Paddy Sean Nancy's Favorite/The Graf Spree demonstrates a knack for Irish music - no surprise, given the time he spent playing in the band Mozaik with Celtic stalwarts Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny.
However, that's really just the tip of the iceberg for Molsky's talents. He also accompanies himself on guitar and banjo, including an 1860s vintage fretless banjo on Cumberland Gap. Bimini Gal, a traditional Bahamian tune, originates thousands of miles from Gap, but in Molsky's hands, the songs all fit together.
As a historian, Molsky is helping to keep these songs from falling through the cracks. The liner notes detail how he learned them, either from other old-time musicians or from second-hand CDs or cassettes. As a musician, he's created an excellent album, sure to appeal to anyone who can appreciate a fine fiddle or banjo tune - and they might increase their musical knowledge along the way. History lessons are rarely this entertaining.