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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Artist: Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings
Label: Compass Records
Time: 12 tracks / 70:07 min.
My first exposure to Darol Anger was some 30 years ago, when Anger was a young violin prodigy, playing in David Grisman’s band, touring in support of jazz violin legend, Staphane Grappelli. At that time, Anger was the young turk, warming his hands by the blaze of greatness that was Grappelli. Today, Darol is the elder statesman, hiring band-leader Grisman’s teenage son to play on one track of this CD. Indeed, the perpetuation and handing down of musical tradition is very much a part of the Republic of Strings’ platform.
Darol Anger’s current group project is a concept that covers a lot of ground: a loose musical unit made up of members whose ages range from 14 to 52, and whose influences are as diverse as ethnic folk music and modern pop, rock, and soul! Although the Republic of Strings is open enough to include many passing guest artists, the core (or, the legislative branch?) of this nation is legendary violin/fiddle/mandolin player, Darol Anger and guitar virtuoso, Scott Nygaard. Filling out the rest of Darol’s musical ‘cabinet’ are Rushad Eggleston (cello) and Brittany Haas (5-string fiddle), abetted by an array of vocal and instrumental ambassadors who add appropriate amounts of aural and cultural diversity to the proceedings.
One thing that you should not expect to find in this ‘republic’ is rock and roll—no screaming guitar solos, no gun-shot snare hits, no slap-bass or funk. You can expect a synthesis of Scandinavian folk music, early American tunes, some jazz and even the slightest touch of folk-rock and Detroit soul. If this sounds like something you might never have heard before, you’re right. As a matter of fact, it’s the inclusion of a couple of familiar American pop tunes (Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird,” and Aretha’s “Chain of Fools”) that help the uninitiated to snap back to a musical frame of reference that might be more culturally familiar. Even the aforementioned pop classics are given the unique string-band treatment that pervades this CD.
The album starts out with “When You Go”— an original song by Nygaard that appropriately sets up the rest of the project with its contemporary groove working in and around what sounds like early American mountain music. This is followed by “Polska Upstairs,” a Swedish tune that retains its characteristically light Swedish feel but manages to explore some deep musical passages before the song is done. The album’s first vocal track (track 3), “Chain of Fools,” brings us back to a contemporary mode, featuring Chris Webster, who interprets the song in a more sedate, sad, smoky delivery than the version we’re all familiar with. The album’s second vocal performance appears two tracks later - “Father Adieu” features The Anonymous 4, sounding straight out of the Appalachian hills—think: “O Darol, Where Art Thou?” This is followed by “The Seagull”: a more free-form, jazzy composition that sounds alternately Celtic and Scandinavian at the roots. The 9th track is “Bluebird,” another familiar tune, placed strategically to give us some of the old, mixed in with the new—an encouragement to explore further. This time the singing is handled by Terry Pinkham, delivering the song with a Bonnie Bramlett-like vocal. The album is rounded out with several more songs, all expertly performed, including one live track—the 7 minute-plus “Rain Dance,” that sounds like a new-age hoedown, the very interesting “In The Basement,” with its sprightly vocal by Aiofe O’Donovan, evoking the fun and fears of childhood, and the CD’s closer, “The Tan Hut,” which gets into a strange, ‘nightmare circus’ groove.
Call it Newgrass Music, Dawg Music, Folk-Jazz…. If you’re ready for a different kind of listening experience, by all means give this CD a try. You may not dance to it (unless you’re wearing clogs), but it’s definitely an enjoyable trip to a republic of strings that you might end up visiting again and again.
Bert Saraco (4/22/06)
- Add half a tock if you saw Oh Brother, Where Art Thou more than once.