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Fletcher Bright and Bill Evans

Fine Times At Fletcher's House: Fiddle and Banjo Music from Lookout Mountain, Tennessee – 2013 (Native & Fine)

Reviewed by Larry Stephens

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CDs by Fletcher Bright and Bill Evans

Old time music is infused in more modern forms of music, especially bluegrass. The translation from old time to bluegrass is relatively easy, but the sounds of old time fit a fairly restrictive mold. Amplified instruments are out and extended melody numbers, like Jerusalem Ridge, don't translate into old time. Blackjack Grove, for instance, has four bars (if you're counting in 4/4 time) repeated twice, then a different four bars repeated twice, then you do it all over again several times. There may be some variance in the interpretation of those four bars as you move between segments, but the differences are not major and may not be heard by the casual listener.

You may find a range of stringed instruments in an old time band, but one variation that also finds its way to some bluegrass bands is the fiddle and banjo duet. There are no other instruments included. The banjo may be open-backed, though Evans is using an Osborne Chief Rocky Top and a 1930 Gibson Granada, playing in a melodic style, usually echoing the fiddle lead.

Bluegrass fans are sometimes dismissive of old time music because of its relative simplicity and repetitiveness, overlooking their own tendency to play an instrumental until it is ground to fine dust, each instrument taking full break after full break (while the bass player quietly curses). If you're going to enjoy old time you have to listen for the nuances. Northern White Clouds (a tune that did come from bluegrass, credited to Bill Monroe) is an interesting piece with both Bright and Evans taking breaks, as they do in Two O'Clock, a speedy Benny Martin number lasting only a minute and a half. Another Monroe tune is Whitehorse Breakdown, a fiddle piece with the banjo providing support.

A number of old time tunes are associated with the Civil War. Da Slokit Light (The Light Gone Out) has that sound that makes you think of soldiers around a campfire, but it's actually a dirge written by Tom Anderson in dedication to the population loss of his birthplace. Abe's Retreat. paired here with Fine Times at Our House is a Civil War tune commemorating the battle of Bull Run. They close out with the combination St. Anne's Reel/Angeline the Baker/Soldier's Joy. Soldier's Joy has been played innumerable times by string bands through the years and Angeline the Baker has found its way into mainstream bluegrass thanks to IIIrd Tyme Out (among others).

If a fan of old time music, especially the fiddle and banjo variety, there is a lot of joy in this CD.