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IN THE PINES: Tar Heel Folk Songs & Fiddle Tunes
Old-Time Music of North Carolina 1926–1936
Old Hat CD-1006

Reviewed by Ken Smith / Red Lick Records / December 2008

Old Time music fans prepare to celebrate! Here’s a new Old Hat CD! The last one, the brilliant Good For What Ails You (Old Hat CD-1005) hit the racks in 2005 so we’ve had a long, long wait.

Just as you’d expect from Old Hat, In The Pines is a high quality release. This time focusing on the Tar Heel State, it is beautifully presented with great graphics in a superbly designed booklet full of insightful notes, recording data, information on the tunes and artists and rare photos too. Speaking of which, there’s Dock Walsh looking as suave as Howard Hughes and Frank Jenkins’ Pilot Mountaineers blinking at the camera like rabbits in the headlights. Great photographs- but I should be telling you about the music…

Well, there’s an abundance of traditional dance tunes, heart songs, cautionary folk hymns, minstrel songs, fiddle pieces, murder ballads and blues from the golden years of old-time country music. The twenty-four tracks are divided between the well-known names like Dock Walsh, the Red Fox Chasers, Clarence Greene, Charlie Poole’s Highlanders and Grayson & Whitter. The more obscure are covered by the likes of Charlie Parker & Mack Woolbright, the Proximity String Quartet, the Blankenship Family and the Cauley Family. These unknowns will make you sit up and take note. Take the Proximity String Quartet and their version of “Lindy.” It’s a whimsical tune led by a perky mandolin and sung in a blackface minstrel manner with a jaunty verse followed by an unforgettable chorus that blues fans will remember as part of Lil McClintock’s 1930 “coon-song” medley “Don’t Think I’m Santa Claus.” The Blankenship Family made up of father Will and his three kids attack “Working On The Railroad” with a rural enthusiasm that’ll charm your socks off. The notes say its “awkward, stilted, rusty, slithering around on some notes, hitting a few wrong ones, but determined, plunky and fun” and I think it’s all the better for it!

Meanwhile, Dock Walsh takes hold of the quintessential folk tune “In The Pines” and yells it out mountaineer style while he performs some of the most intricate banjo picking I’ve heard. There’s a more delicate style of banjo picking on Ben Jarrell’s “Jack of Diamonds” where Frank Jenkins picks out a counterpoint to Ben’s circulating fiddle rhythms. Fiddle players get their fair share of the action with Clarence Greene swirling and soaring all over the Blue Ridge Mountain Entertainer’s “Honeysuckle Rag” (this one is their swinging variant of the “East Tennessee Blues”) while Grayson and Whitter make the green woods ring with the first (and best) recording of the world famous folk ballad “Tom Dooley.” From what I’ve read, most of these murder ballads involve a jealous lover or a pregnant sweetheart but Tom Dula’s defense was that poor Laura Foster deserved what she got because she infected him with syphilis. So there!

Thanks to J.E. Mainer and Zeke Morris’ dynamic harmonizing, you hear the first hint of the emerging sounds of bluegrass in Mainer’s Mountaineers’ spirited version of “The Longest Train.” Frank Jenkins makes another welcome appearance on the Pilot Mountaineers’ “Sunny Home In Dixie,” his virtuosic fiddling and inventive improvisations make this dance tune one of the hottest on the CD. The Carolina Tar Heels’ “My Home’s Across The Blue Ridge Mountains” is a perfect final track to this wonderful album, it’s full of heartfelt sadness at separation heightened by the soulful harmonica of Garley Foster and the high lonesome sound of the whole ensemble.

At the time of writing, I’ve been listening to this CD for about two weeks and you’d need a crow bar to remove it from my player! In The Pines is a classic album of the very finest old-time music that I can’t praise enough. I agree wholeheartedly with Bill Ferris’s assertion that “In The Pines firmly establishes North Carolina’s legacy as the home of old-time country music. Each of these performances is filled with beauty and power.”

Tony Russell, the world authority on this subject says it’s “a gorgeous showcase of elegant, affecting music.” And he knows. Do yourself a favour and treat yourself to this scintillating CD.