PRE-BLUES AFRICAN-AMERICAN OLD-TIME FIDDLE MUSIC
Shlomo Pestcoe | 08/29/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a very important album. It documents Joe Thompson (born in 1918) of Alamance County, North Carolina, one of the last African-American fiddlers who still plays in the pre-blues old-time style. Joe was born into a North Carolina Piedmont farming family that produced many fine fiddlers and banjo players, including his father, John Arch (1879-1968), and his paternal uncles, Jacob A. (1876-?) and Walter E. (1882-?). Joe's father and uncles were much sought-after musicians for square dances in both the white and black communities of Orange County. "Frolics" -- dance parties featuring "eight-hand sets" square dancing to the music of the fiddle and 5-string banjo (you were invited to a frolic with the phrase, "Hands-up eight and don't be late!") -- were the main form of social recreation in the rural black communities of North Carolina's Piedmont back in Joe's youth. As children, Joe and his older brother Nate (1916-1997) began playing for local frolics and house parties, often with their uncle Walter's son, Odell (1911-1994). By the 1930s, guitar-based blues began making inroads into their community, so Nate and Odell also doubled on the guitar to accompany the latest popular couple dances that were interspersed between the eight-hand sets. Joe, however, preferred to "hang to" the fiddle and the old-time music of his father and uncles. After his military tour of duty in Europe, Joe returned to North Carolina to settle down and raise a family. He continued to play on occasion with his cousin Odell, who would back him up on the banjo, but the old-time frolics of their youth had all but disappeared from their community-- R&B and Rock & Roll were all the rage. The 1960s Folk Revival sparked renewed interset in old-time music and Joe and Odell were "discovered" by folklorist Christopher "Kip" Lornell in the early 1970s. It wasn't long before they began a new career performing on the folk circuit. Today, a youthful 80 years old, Joe is still a favorite at old-time music and folk festivals throughout the country and the world over. His only regret is that the young people of his own community have no interest in this music and after he's gone there'll be no one left to carry on the family tradition. FAMILY TRADITION is the first album devoted to Joe Thompson and his music (Joe and Odell, as a fiddle and banjo duo, appear on several compilations of field-recordings-- including Smithsonian-Folkways' BLACK BANJO SONGSTERS and Rounder's THE NORTH CAROLINA BANJO COLLECTION-- as well as their own cassette on the Global Village label, OLD-TIME MUSIC FROM THE NORTH CAROLINA PIEDMONT). The majority of tunes here feature Joe's fiddle backed by banjo, guitar and bass, which makes for some great rollicking, top-tapping music. One of my favorite cuts is Joe singing an old sacred song, OIL IN MY VESSEL, which he learned from his mother, to the accompaniment of Bob Carlin (the album's producer who usually backs him on banjo) on guitar and master multi-instrumentalist Scott Ainslie on slide guitar.All in all, this is a superb album and production. Grab it!"
Really good music, a joy to hear
Tony Thomas | SUNNY ISLES BEACH, FL USA | 04/24/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When I bought this CD I expected it would just be interesting culturally to hear an old fiddler,probably past his prime, preserving the dying culture of Black fiddling. Boy was I wrong. This record is a joy to hear, nice to listen to, a real highpoint to learn from as I aspire to be a fiddler. His playing is crisp, blusy and rhythmic. The singing is very good and the accompaniment is very rhythmic, but understated to let us hear who the real star is. The rhytmn is very nice and novel. This is fun to listen to. Real folk music."