our favorite old-time recordings released in 2018

When we listen to old-time music it’s typically the scratchy archival field recordings of our favorite source fiddlers. But 2018 was an amazing year for new releases of outstanding traditional Appalachian music, and here are some favorites that crossed our paths and caught our ears. What did we miss? Let us know your favorites!

Mike Bryant & Paul Brown

Rafe Stefanini & David Bragger

Steam Machine

Evie Ladin “Riding the Rooster”

Bruce Greene “Five Miles of Ellum Wood” (re-printing)

Mitch Depew and Nick Stillman “Mitch and Nick play old-time tunes”

New CD!!!!!!!!!! "Old World Music of the Southern Appalachians"

Friends, we are super excited that our new CD has now been released on David Bragger’s venerable Old-Time Tiki Parlour label!!! We are really proud of this one and hope you like it. Here’s part of what David wrote about the album for FolkWorks:

“For their fourth release, Hog-eyed Man—Old World Music of the Southern Appalachians, they outdid themselves again. The ambience and beauty of Cade and McMaken’s duo magic is colored and accented by the playing of four guest musicians. Tom Baker plays fingerpicked and clawhammer banjo and the rock-solid rhythm section of Nancy and Charlie Hartness (also on the Skeleton Keys release) are on guitar and ukulele. Legendary singer, folklorist, artist, banjoist and Grammy winner Art Rosenbaum also makes a memorable guest appearance on a few tracks.

In a visual collaboration with Howard Rains, the CD package and booklet showcase a curious collection of primitive imagery juxtaposed with the alchemical-looking diagram of the Blumlein stereo recording technique. This technique was used to record the album.

Recorded entirely live around two ribbon microphones, this album transports the listener to an intimate kitchen session, where the musicians comfortably settle in on twenty lesser-known gems mined from deep Appalachia. Drawing primarily on the archaic fiddling traditions of Eastern Kentucky and Western North Carolina, the nuanced and powerful performances essentially re-envision southern old-time tunes as if radio, the folk revival, and bluegrass never happened but the music instead continued to organically develop along some alternate path. Many of the tunes on the album tap connections to the traditional music of Ireland, Scotland and England, while other pieces are associated with Native American fiddlers and history.

Throughout, Jason and Rob manage to let their own voices emerge as authentic interpreters of the tradition while remaining true to the wild, lyrical, and unvarnished aesthetics of the source fiddlers who they revere. The result is a captivating album of deep-vein Americana—gritty, emotionally rich, and timeless. The vivid recording quality combines with the thoughtfully interwoven strands of almost-lost musical sensibilities to give Old World Music of the Southern Appalachians a rustic-yet-refined sound like no other. This album is destined to become a classic!”

The CD is available online from the Old Time Tiki Parlour Shop as of Nov. 2, and will be in stores and a wide range of digital platforms by the beginning of December.

Guest Appearance on Get Up in the Cool

Jason recently had the opportunity to drop by Cameron DeWhitt's house in Philadelphia to record an episode of his excellent podcast, Get up in the Cool. They chatted about oldtime music and played Poplar Bluff, Rye Straw, Bruce Green’s Jake Phelps’ Will Stegall’s Durang’s Hornpipe, Kentucky Winder, Allen Sisson’s Cumberland Gap, and Byard Ray’s Flight of the Wild Geese. Check it out!

volume 4 coming early fall! (preview track)

From the outset, Hog-eyed Man has been more of a concept than a band to us, and the CDs we’ve released are not simply collections of tunes. Each volume is an opportunity to cherish the old sounds learned from master musicians now long gone, who themselves were keeping alive the music and memories of yet earlier Appalachian fiddlers, and on back to the immigrants who carried tunes across from the Old World. But at the same time that the projects help focus and refine our conversations with the past, they also allow us to document our present-day musical exchanges, with each volume serving as a reflection of the friends, ideas, instruments, or environments that inspired and sustained us over the past year or so. For volume 4, we invited our friends Tom Baker (banjo), Nancy Hartness (guitar), Charlie Hartness (uke), and Art Rosenbaum (banjo and singing). We all huddled around two stacked Shiny Box ribbon mics without headphones, overdubs or edits. Our friend Andrew Reissiger engineered most of the album in Studio 1093 in Athens, GA, on two winter nights in December, 2017, and then taught us how to record the rest in Jason’s basement. It was easy to make good music with such good souls. We're still narrowing down the final track-list, but for sure the new CD will feature plenty of fiddle-dulcimer duets, along with trios and full-band rave-ups. Maybe a fiddle solo. It will have the usual Hog-eyed mix of rarities, unique versions of classics, and some surprises, mostly sourced from western NC & eastern KY.  We think you'll like it. Anyway, here's a little preview -- an unmixed version of Cumberland Gap from north Georgia's Allen Sisson -- with Jason on fiddle, Rob on lap dulcimer, and Tom on banjo. Art stopped by the studio on his 79th birthday and obliged our request to sing some impromptu verses. It was really fun! Much more to come.

new review of volume 3 in UK's Old Time News

we sincerely thank steve blake and the Old Time News for publishing a generous review of Hog-eyed Man 3 in the winter issue! here's an excerpt: "The playing feels very personal, as if you are constantly being told a story, hanging on every note and every nuance. My own personal preference with fiddle music tends to lean heavily towards old scratchy field recordings and often, when I hear modern recordings, though I may be greatly impressed with the playing, I feel some raw quality of urgency or intensity can be lacking in comparison. The first thing that struck me when I heard this band was that their music and sound manages to be sublime and stark, profoundly technical and seemingly effortless, tight and relaxed, extremely well produced and timeless. An essential recording for old-time fans." --Steve Blake, OTN No. 92. Full review here.

discovery of western NC "Glory in the Meetinghouse" (from Osey Helton, circa 1939)

Playing oldtime music often opens little windows to a mostly forgotten past. One gets interested in a particular fiddler from long ago, and then follows the long, unhurried, zig-zaggy path of listening to available recordings, collecting snippets of biographical information, hearing about the other fiddlers in that community who might have been mentors, peers, or students, and so on. Not to imply that this is necessarily a studious process, or even particularly intentional in every case. Rather, sometimes it's simply that when a fiddler (or sometimes even just a particular tune) becomes appealing, one starts to pay more attention to conversations, writings, or recordings that surface concerning that fiddler (or tune). The fragments slowly come together over time, forming an evolving but never complete picture of the fiddler's repertoire, stylistic sensibility, influences, and life details. 

Every once in a while, a new puzzle piece comes along that raises new questions and further deepens the mysteries of the past. And so it was when I first listened to an unnamed, untitled tune that Osey Helton played around 1939 for Dr. Jan Schinhan, a University of North Carolina professor of music from 1935 to 1958.

First, some quick background about Osey Helton, pieced together over time from various sources, but with particular gratitude to Bob Carlin's informative research, published in a series of articles for the Old-Time Herald. Osey (pronounced "Ozzie") was a part-Cherokee fiddler, born in 1879, who first learned fiddle from a former slave who worked with his father in an Asheville, NC distillery. Osey became a master musician who regularly played with his brother Ernest and a bevy of venerable fiddlers that included, most notably, Marcus Martin, Manco Sneed, and Bill Hensley, all of whom were very influenced by J.D. Harris (b. ~1868), who moved to the Asheville area from nearby Flag Pond, TN (and whose repertoire came in part from Wiley Laws, a blind fiddler from England who immigrated to Virginia in the 19th century).

Having grown up in western NC, not too far from Asheville, I have long admired and tried to learn from field recordings made of Osey and his peers, and Rob and I have recorded many of their tunes on our three Hog-eyed Man records. It was thus with great happiness that a few weeks ago I first got to listen to some of the field recordings made of Osey and his brother Ernest by Dr. Schinhan between 1939 and 1941. (A huge thank you to Gail for sharing these with me, and to whoever else unearthed these gems!) There were of course the expected joys of hearing more of Osey's personal takes on some of the repertoire of western NC from that time. His approach to "Polly Put the Kettle On" is particularly neat. A unique and dark version of this common tune became popular in the area, which Sneed, Hensley, Martin -- and, a bit later, Byard Ray and Steve Ledford -- all played, but each put his own twists and turns on it. Osey's might be the best of them all.

But the Schinhan collection also contained a few big surprises, for me anyway, including an untitled file labeled simply "Track 19," featuring an unnamed tune. It's a modal tune in which Osey takes a variable approach to phrasing, particularly on the high part, and uses a tuning that sounds like a lot of open D strings (or at least a low bass string); neither of which were common techniques for him, at least judging from his available recorded tunes (Osey mostly played in standard tuning, and he tends to play crisp, well-defined settings of tunes with only small variations). The tune sounded vaguely familiar, and not unlike something Manco Sneed might've played, but my brain couldn't quite place it within the canon of regional fiddle tunes from that era. A few days ago, however, when I sat down to actually learn it, synapses finally fired and the connection was made. I stopped playing and caught my breath. This tune, I realized, appears to be a version (or very close cousin) of the Kentucky masterwork "Glory in the Meetinghouse."

Hog-eyed Man recorded Glory in the Meetinghouse for vol. 3, which we derived mostly from the playing of Bev Baker (b. 1872), who was present when Luther Callahan Strong (b. 1892) made his celebrated recordings for Alan Lomax in Hazard, KY in 1937. Strong's powerful version of Glory is considered the definitive one, but Baker's approach to the tune had nuances that drew us in. (For more notes and sound files regarding those sources and our recording, check out our Tune Journeys page). As chronicled by Stephen Wade in his brilliant book The Beautiful Music All Around Us, Glory in Meetinghouse was apparently a fairly well-known tune in that part of Kentucky at the time. In addition to the Strong and Baker recordings, on that same 1937 trip Lomax collected versions from Theophilus Hoskins and Boyd Asher, each of whom knew Strong and suggested that Lomax find him. Hiram Stamper (b. 1893), a friend of Strong's, played Glory in the Meetinghouse too, although he was apparently not recorded doing so until the 1970s, when visited by Bruce Greene. According to Wade, Hiram said he learned the tune from Bev Baker, but he also heard it from older players like Shade Sloan (b. 1828), and his version sounds more archaic, with a great deal of variability in the phrasing and a deeply resonate open tuning. Previously, just listening to sound files, I thought Hiram was either DDAD or DDAE, but a video made in the 80s (see link below) shows that it was actually just a low bass string -- EDAE, in terms of relative tuning (but his fiddle is tuned down about a step in pitch, so something like DCGD).

Osey's "Track 19" shares the essential structure and melody of Glory in the Meetinghouse. Of note, however, Osey never plays the highest third part variation that the Kentucky fiddlers incorporated now and again for climactic effect. So how did this Kentucky tune come into Osey's repertoire? He didn't learn it from the Library of Congress recordings of Luther Strong, as these were released after Osey died in 1942. And in any event, to my ear at least, Osey Helton's version sounds closer to how Hiram Stamper played it than Luther Strong or Bev Baker. Like Hiram, Osey uses a more open (or at least low bass) tuning, and he similarly alters the phrasing of both the high and low parts every time he passes through the tune (Luther Strong used ample variations too, but he didn't alter the actual length of the measures / parts quite as much as Hiram or Osey).  

Most likely, the tune was passed along from fiddler to fiddler sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century, making its way from Kentucky down to North Carolina. Without radio or recording devices, fiddlers of that era relied on direct contact with other fiddlers. Through this pattern of oral transmission, the nuances of melodies evolved, and tune titles were sometimes lost or mangled, but the tunes -- especially memorable ones -- nonetheless traveled. I emailed Bruce Greene to get his thoughts on the similarities between the tune as played by Osey and the Kentucky fiddlers, and he replied that "Strong travelled a fair amount, so it could have drifted down to NC. Don't know if those fellers ever knew each other, but I suspect there was a lot more interaction through travel than is commonly assumed (the isolation idea.)" With this in mind, I did some more reading about Shade Sloan, the older fiddler mentioned by Hiram as having also played the tune. Sloan fought in the civil war and could have disseminated (or picked up) the tune during those travels. Or it could have been Strong on his travels, or some other feller...

Perhaps less likely, but not impossible, is that the KY and NC versions of Glory are a musical instance of what biologists refer to as "parallel evolution," in which distinct species with a common ancestor develop similar traits over time in different places (e.g., the green tree boa and the green tree python). The character and even the title of Glory in the Meetinghouse bears some resemblance to the Irish traditional reel "The Templehouse." Perhaps, then, after crossing the Atlantic the tune took distinct but not dissimilar paths in different parts of the Appalachians. (The Templehouse Reel appears in Chief O'Neill's celebrated collection of Irish traditional music in America published in 1903; not sure if there's any evidence pre-dating that).

We will never know the full history of Glory in the Meetinghouse. But there's joy to be found in the journey of discovery, and the puzzle only becomes more rich with this unearthing of Osey Helton masterfully playing the tune so far down south, so long ago. By the way, if any readers have something to add to this story, or any corrections you wish to point out, please leave a comment below, or send a message. Cheers!

When I learned Osey Helton's Glory in the Meetinghouse a few days ago, I immediately played it for my three year old son. When he hears music with energy, whether traditional, pop, rock, rap, or whatever, he starts dancing. He was really into this tune and rewarded me with some amazing improvised flat-footing. Recognizing the spontaneous excitement of the moment, my 7 year old son picked up my phone and shot this impromptu short video.

You can check out Luther Strong, Bev Baker, and Hog-eyed Man playing Kentucky versions of Glory over on our Tune Journeys page. And here's a video of Hiram Stamper at 91 or 92 years old, still playing the tune with his unique brilliance.

And finally, here's Osey Helton, recorded sometime between 1939 and 1941, playing the Western NC version of Glory in the Meetinghouse, for your listening pleasure:

new reviews of HEM 3

We are grateful when anyone takes the time to review our music, especially in an era where paid PR has largely eclipsed music journalism. In the last two weeks we received two very generous reviews of our latest CD (Hog-eyed Man 3). Veteran oldtime musician and critic Steve Goldfield, writing for Bluegrass Unlimited, called it "a masterpiece." Jerome Clark, an eloquent reviewer of folk music for Rambles, described our music as "infused with an atmospheric and emotional richness of the sort that happens only when art and artist are in perfect alignment." Both reviews are rich with details about the tunes and songs on Vol.3 and Mr. Clark penned a wonderful paragraph about the miraculousness of oldtime music's enduring beauty and power in the modern age.

All we can say is thanks, y'all... 

We really do appreciate it.

anita sorrells wheeler, georgia fiddler

In 1920, 15-year-old Anita Sorrells from Cobb Co. got 2nd place in the highly-celebrated Georgia Oldtime Fiddlers Convention. In 1931 and again in 1934, by then married with kids (married name Wheeler), she won the whole thing. According to Wayne Daniel, who kicks off his book Pickin' on a Peachtree: A History of Country Music in Atlanta, Georgia with an outstanding chapter on the era of the Fiddlers Convention, Anita Wheeler was the only woman ever to win during the convention's 1913-1935 run. This Youtube video is only example I can find so far of her music, recorded when she was 82 years old (first there's a charming interview, and then the music starts at 3:18). The fiddle is a bit out of tune, but her bow arm is still dynamite.  

I hope this not all we have to hear what she sounded like ... There must be a radio broadcast transcript somewhere from her touring days with the Oklahoma Cowgirls or the Dixie String Band? Anyway, if anyone reading this has a lead on other sound or video files, or even just tune transcriptions, please leave a comment below or send us a message!

Here's a link to a picture of the lovely young Ms. Wheeler and her fiddle.

end of year tunes with old friends

whatever might be said about 2016, at least it ended right, with visits to some of my dearest musical friends in NC for rejuvenating tunes and chat.

bruce greene and loy mcwhirter live deep in the patton thicket woods area of celo, nc, a couple miles from the farm where i grew up, just across the south toe river and down the road on highway 80. my parents still live there. my aunt does too, now, and my brother and sister have also returned to build homes and raise their families. so, along with the many goats and chickens that enjoy permanent residence despite the farm no longer having commercial operations, the cade homestead is pretty dang full these days. lots of kids, chores, and activity. all fun, but it's hard to find much time to break away. somehow though, on one of the last days of our holiday visit, i managed to find an afternoon to visit bruce and loy in their cozy home, and caught up on some news and played some old tunes. bruce had a new fiddle (bought on ebay of all places). i got a sneak listen to some of a brilliant new CD project documenting tunes that he learned from some old-timers in the south toe valley. it's so good! we began, as we almost always do, with one of the first tunes he taught me as a kid:  isham monday's "apple blossom." it's an incredible and timeless tune, well-built enough to suit any season, room, and mood you might find yourself in. (by the way, we've got an entry about recording Apple Blossom in 2014 over on our Tune Journeys page). bruce and i revived a bunch of john salyer tunes, including "lost girl," "barlow knife," and "big-eared mule." i was pleasantly surprised that we had both come up with basically the same interpretation of "little bobby," one that salyer recorded with variety, which i hadn't played in years. we exchanged our pretty different takes on darley fulks' certifiably-insane but strangely-captivating performance piece "the snowstorm," and i almost picked up "somebody's buried in the graveyard" (but have already forgotten who it comes from). bruce's fiddling sounds better than ever, to my ears. the micro-rhythms in his bowing sneak up from unexpected directions, swirl, and accumulate, creating a kind of lift that makes the music seem rise up and circulate around the room. it's dizzying and breathtaking and moving to experience in person.

two days before, i also got a chance to hang out with patrick and cathy sky in nearby spruce pine, nc. i first met pat and cathy around 1996 or 1997 in chapel hill, and for about 5 years, before i moved to new york city and they relocated to spruce pine, i played a whole lot of irish music in their kitchen. i learned tons from them, at a very formative time in my musical life, about the power of a tasteful, pure drop approach to traditional music. it's not just the importance of melody, ornaments, and pace -- though such qualities are critical to making artful music. it's also seeking out the most beautiful and vital tunes and settings, and sharing them with others in your musical community. and it's about approaching this music with lifelong respect and discipline, balanced by humility and humor. eventually, you've got a living language, and when you meet others you can communicate in this deep way through the old tunes.... pat's pipes weren't working when i visited, sadly, but he played his three-string bouzouki as cathy and i rekindled some of our old favorites ("whistling postman," "love at the endings," "grainne's jig," "queen of may," and many more), talked of neighbors and kids, and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere that descends and surrounds when longtime musical friends get back together.

goodbye, 2016. here's to more music, with old and new friends, in 2017.

-jason, dec. 31, 2016