Band: Little Black Train
Title: Barn Dance
Release Date: 4/17/12
Format: Compact Disc, Download
Label: Native Home Music
Kenny Blackwell: mandolin, guitar, vocals.
John Weed: fiddle, vocals.
Stuart Mason: lead vocals, guitar, mandola, banjo.
Native Home Records announces the release of Little Black Train’s second LP, a lively romp through 12 tracks of down-home fun titled Barn Dance. The all-acoustic trio of veteran pickers mixes up an unlikely blend of old-timey songs, bluesy mandolin, and Celtic fiddle to create their unique breed of oldternative Americana. In the tradition of early bluegrass, they record live into a pair of stereo microphones, cutting complete takes with no overdubs, for a vintage sound that complements the rich woody tones of fiddle, mandolin, mandola, banjo, and guitar.
On Barn Dance the trio expands its range, like kudzu covering a woodpile. Here they have included more blues and gospel songs from the Deep South, with tracks like Death Don’t Have No Mercy, Blues in the Bottle, and Satan Your Kingdon Must Come Down. As on their first release, the earliest days of country music are recalled, with material from the Carter Family, Jimmy Rodgers, and Charlie Poole. West Virginia remains a recurring theme, as they open the record with Old Black Dog from the Mountain State’s Dick Justice.
John Weed’s fiddle leads the way on a set of barndances from northern Ireland, transporting the listener to an all-night dance in the 1800s, somewhere back up in the hills. Like a medicine show barker, Kenny Blackwell’s mandolin adds an element of minstrel-show zing as he compels the listener to follow him on a merry chase up and down the neck of his old Gibson. The authentic voice of Stuart Mason weaves in and out, challenging the mandolin and fiddle to just one more time around. Mason’s clawhammer banjo is now a key player in the sound of Little Black Train, adding its punchy drive to the party on three tracks of Barn Dance.
Mason talks about their approach to the music:
“We like to give equal weight to traditional melody playing and the old songs, as well as fiery improvisation on mandolin and fiddle. Before the boom of commercial radio in the 20s and 30s, you would have heard more melodic evidence of the old country in the sound of the fiddle, that’s where John’s style comes into play. He invokes the timeless spirit of Donegal and Clare in the tunes he brings to us. Kenny has a long history of jazz, swing, blues and bluegrass on the mandolin, and you can hear that plain as day when we let him go to town.
“As for my songs–I was born in West Virginia. My father’s family lived there since long before it split off from Virginia. My grandpa worked the C&O Railroad, and his father was a circuit-riding preacher, so I’ve got fire and brimstone and coal dust under my skin. I just love how the same words crop up again and again in the traditional songs. Some of the verses can be traced right back to Britain and Ireland. Gospel was always a big part of music up in the hills, seems like you’re closer to God up there anyway, but the coal boom was what brought in the sound of the Piedmont and the Delta. Black folk flooded in to work the mines, and that’s when Anglo-based mountain music met the southern blues. Singers like Dick Justice and Dock Boggs and Charlie Poole recorded music that had all those ingedients mixed up together. Those are the rails we travel with Little Black Train.” –Stuart Mason, Little Black Train
From Devon Leger of Hearth Music:
“This album’s a helluva lot of fun, but what sets it apart is their obvious love of traditional music and their ability to find the long-lost old railway tracks that connect the traditions. Bringing in a funky set of old barndances from Northern Ireland is an especially inspired touch, as it shows a kinship between the melodies of Irish and American music that’s all too often overlooked in favor of the songs. Yep, these boys can play and they know their stuff.” – Devon Leger, Hearth Music (Seattle)
1. Old Black Dog (Dick Justice)
2. Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down
3. Barn Dances (Michael Coleman, Dermy Diamond)
4. California Blues (Jimmy Rodgers)
5. Fly Around Pretty Little Lost Girl (Rayna Gellert, Sammy Lind)
6. Death Don’t Have No Mercy (Rev. Gary Davis)
7. Blues in the Bottle (Prince Albert Hunt)
8. Goodbye Booze (Charlie Poole)
9. The Bravest Cowboy (Tommy Jarrell)
10. The Coolin (John Doherty)/Jamie Allen
11. Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow (Carter Family)
12. Campbell’s Tater Patch