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August 29, 2010

Ed Haley

Ok, so this isn't a picture of our man, but it came up on a google search, and was too good not to use ;-)

Ed Haley was, as near as I can figure it, the American equivalent of Michael Coleman. Ferocious fiddling from the dawn of the 20th Century which left its mark on everything that has come to follow. You old-time music-lovers, I really oughtn't have to say anything. As far as fiddling is concerned, this is where it's at. Look at the size of his bow. You know what they say about blind guys with big bows, right?

Ed Haley Bio:
1883-1951 - East Kentucky/West Virginia
James Edward "Ed" Haley was born in 1883 on Hart's Creek in Logan County, West Virginia. Haley, who was a blind professional fiddler, never recorded commercially during his lifetime; he was afraid that the record companies would take advantage of a blind man. However, there were recordings made by Haley's son Ralph on a home disc-cutting machine. When Ralph died, the recordings were evenly divided among the five remaining children. It is believed that the 106 sides which remain are only about one third of those recorded.Most of these have been issued on CD by Rounder Records on two 2-CD sets. The digital rejuvenation of these disks is remarkable.

Haley, who was often accompanied by his wife Martha, who was also blind and played mandolin, traveled to fiddle contests and small towns throughout West Virginia and Kentucky. Before the depression, he made as much as twenty dollars a day. But Haley would also play special requests for people who loved fiddling but had no money to pay for it. One of Haley's lifelong friends was an Ivydale physicial named Laury Hicks. Shortly before he died, Hicks requested that he be able to hear Ed Haley one more time. Ed arrived too late, and it is said that he played over Laury's grave for hours into the night.

In regard to his own fiddling, Haley was not particularly vain, although he was aware that he could put "slurs and insults" into a tune in a manner that set him apart from all other fiddlers. "I like to flavor up a tune," he told Cecil Williamson, "so that nobody in the world could tell what I'm playing.. And he sometimes wished that "someone might pattern after me a little when I'm dead." Today, many young fiddlers such as Brad Leftwich from Indiana and Bruce Molsky from Virginia, have proficiently learned Haley's tunes.

Haley died of a heart attack on February 4, 1951 at his home in Ashland, Kentucky.

Clark Kessinger considered Ed Haley to be the finest fiddler he had ever heard. Molly O' Day says that his playing was unearthly, like music from another world. J.P. Fraley tells how Haley's fingers seemed to possess a life of their own when he played, as if little men were running across the fingerboard of his violin. One old-timer, after hearing Haley play "Bonaparte's Retreat", declared that "if two armies could come together and hear him play that music, they'd kill themselves in piles."

--Excerpted from the original LP liner notes by Mark Wilson and Guthrie T. Meade

Biography by Linda Seida
It would have been a tragedy if the world had been left with no viable recordings of the extremely gifted and influential fiddling of Ed Haley, but that's almost what happened due to Haley's own wariness. The fiddler harbored a healthy mistrust of record companies and was always worried that they would pull a fast one in their dealings with him because of his disability. The Appalachian fiddler, who was born James Edward Haley, lost his sight during a bout of measles when he was approximately three years old. Although he made his living as a professional musician and supported a growing family of six children even throughout the Depression, he refused to deal with any record companies. Luckily, Ralph Haley, one of the fiddler's sons, possessed home recordings of his father that he made over a period from 1946 through the following year. Upon Ralph's passing, his father's recorded legacy was bequeathed to his siblings. In 1975, almost a quarter century after Ed Haley passed away from a heart attack at his home in Ashland, KY, Rounder Records put out a 14-track LP, Parkersburg Landing, that documented his wickedly good fiddling. But this album wasn't enough to capture Haley's repertoire adequately. Rounder went on to put out a pair of double-CD sets, Forked Deer in 1997 followed by Grey Eagle a year later. Haley, who never attended school, did not have an easy childhood. An aunt helped raise him after the death of his musician father in 1889. When food was in short supply, wild onions made up his meal. A kindly neighbor of the budding musician constructed a cornstalk fiddle that Haley tinkered with before he could own a real one. The fiddler wed Martha Ella in 1914 and the newlyweds made their home in Ashland, KY. Like Haley, his wife was blind. She did, however, receive the benefit of a formal education. After graduating from the Louisville School for the Blind, she went on to teach piano and she later played the mandolin as her husband's accompanist.

Rounder Records released two incredible double CDs of Ed Haley's fiddling: Volume 1 (Forked Deer) and Volume 2 (Grey Eagle). These are home recordings that had deteriorated dramatically, but thanks to the efforts of Bob Carlin & Rounder, they have been lovingly restored. A few of the tracks are unavoidably rough, but it's well worth it to hear Haley's astounding fiddling.

Ed Haley - Vol. 1 - Forked Deer

Year: 1997
Label: Rounder

This will be my second copy of Forked Deer - I gave my first to a Mando friend. To me, this is an essential source for anyone who really loves old time fiddle playing. The sound quality is a bit poor, like any source, but you will soon be hearing beyond the limits of the recording equipment of the day once you get into Ed Haley's incredible groove ( enhanced by some kick butt Mandolin playing by his wife).

Ed Haley plays the tunes with such buoyancy and spirit. Once you think you have it down, he starts adding these mind blowing variations - all delivered with lightness, agility and an almost scat singing- like consonance at the front of the bow strokes. Doot dah doot da doot. Listen and see what you think!

Disc: 1
1. Soundbite
2. Forked Deer
3. Ida Red
4. Indian Ate the Woodchuck
5. Brushy Run
6. Indian Nation
7. Humphrey's Jig
8. Green Mountain Polka
9. Sourwood Mountain
10. Man of Constant Sorrow
11. Love Somebody
12. Dora Dean
13. Soundbite
14. Bluegrass Meadows
15. Cacklin' Hen
16. Flop Eared Mule
17. Salt River
18. Brownlow's Dream

Disc: 2
1. Soundbite
2. Indian Squaw
3. Dunbar
4. Lost Indian
5. Jenny Lind
6. Chicken Rebel
7. Cherry River Flag
8. Cripple Creek
9. Done Gone
10. Soundbite
11. Yellow Barber
12. Stacker Lee
13. Brushy Fork of John's Creek
14. Red Apple Rag
15. Wake up Susan
16. Three Forks of Sandy
17. No Corn on Tygart
18. Stonewall Jackson

Brushy Green Woodchuck. (new link 8-6-2011)
~96 vbr (but higher wouldn't give you much more music) | no covers

* out-of-print

Ed Haley - Vol. 2 - Grey Eagle

Year: 1998
Label: Rounder

Amazon Review
In John Hartford's extensive and enlightening liner notes, he compares the old-time fiddler Ed Haley to jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden and Kentucky guitarist Arnold Shultz (an associate of Bill Monroe's Uncle Pen): legendary, enormously influential musicians who were not recorded and are therefore underappreciated. Luckily, Haley was captured by his son Ralph in a series of home recordings from the late-1940s, 32 of which are presented on this two-CD compilation. (This collection follows the other two-disc Rounder companion, Forked Deer.) Born in 1883 West Virginia and blind since the age of three, Haley's fiery approach combines an unrefined aggression and a forward-moving drive with subtle hints of sophistication. His unique (in modern terms) playing style--holding the fiddle against his upper arm and chest--allows him to move the fiddle as well as the bow, increasing his range and dexterity. While the sound quality varies, the musical quality does not. --Marc Greilsamer

Disc: 1
1. Soundbite
2. Grey Eagle
3. Cabin Creek
4. Silver Dagger
5. Wilson's Jig
6. Wild Horse
7. Half Past Four
8. Ox in the Mud
9. Cluck Old Hen
10. Chinese Breakdown
11. Soundbite
12. Sally Will You Marry Me
13. Bonaparte's Retreat
14. Money Musk
15. Garfield's Blackberry Blossom
16. Hell up Coal Holler
17. Arkansas Traveller

Disc: 2
1. Soundbite
2. Cumberland Gap
3. Parkersburg Landing
4. Flowers of the Morning
5. Cuckoo's Nest
6. Cuckoo's Nest
7. Boatsman
8. Old Sledge
9. Paddy on the Turnpike
10. Soundbite
11. Catlettsburg
12. Fire on the Mountain
13. Poplar Bluff
14. Sally Goodin'
15. Cherokee Polka
16. Pumpkin Ridge
17. Mississippi Sawyer
18. Kiss Me Quick
19. Rebel Raid

Alternate Link *added 9-11-2010
~96 vbr (but higher wouldn't give you much more music) | no covers

* out-of-print

oh, and if you want to hear another Fiddlin' Originator, check out Eck Robertson - Famous Cowboy Fiddler over at the Down Home Radio Show

Modern Mandolin Quartet - Modern Mandolin Quartet

I really ought to post more classical albums. There's some really terrific stuff in that mega-genre, and while some of it is geared for pampered victorian prunes, plenty of it can be enjoyed by those with a flair for the earthy wilderness of folk music, like myself. With that said, I've noticed that the classical pieces I tend to gravitate towards are for small ensembles. Maybe it's because a group of 4 musicians can just play so much more together than 80 or 100. And because I like to hear the sound of the instruments and hear their overtones, which get lost when you move to a symphonic scale (though you gain other shimmering qualities).

Of course, another reason I don't post a lot of classical music is that I'm not enough of a follower of the classical blogs to know what's out there and what's not, nor am I enough of a connoisseur to be able to have a lot to say about the works. It seems that to be a classical reviewer, one needs to have an encyclopedic knowledge of other versions of whatever piece one is describing, in addition to having a keen enough ear and long enough attention-span to say something meaningful. And I'm a young lad. I don't have those things. Even my frequent trips to the library to procure and rip whole sets of classical performers, composers, etc. have had small effect on me. I cut my teeth on heavy metal and prog-rock, before I turned to folk and blues and bluegrass. I just don't have a classical ear.

What I do have, however, is a cheerful irreverence to tradition and a fresh perspective that comes from the hodgepodge of musical ephemera that is the source material for my life. And I have the advantage of never having studied music in any formal capacity. So I relate to this music like any string band or dixieland band or bluesman. I just listen. And I notice a few things.

This album is really sparkling. Having plucked instruments rather than bowed instruments gives a totally different tonal quality to these well-known pieces, and these players play with such phenomenal precision that they pluck as one. And they pick both aged and modern pieces that have each earned their right in the canon of well-regarded classics. But the treatment they get here makes them sound as fresh as if they were written yesterday (and for a 22-year-old album, that's pretty good). But this isn't a crossover album either. They don't take the 12 'Greatest Hits' of the string quartet repertoire and give them paltry mandolin arrangements. There's serious music here, and serious arrangements. But of course, Mike Marshall's around, so nothing gets so serious that it can't have a crooked smile in there somewhere...

Modern Mandolin Quartet is:
Chamber group using the instruments of the mandolin family (two mandolins, mandola and mando-cello) to perform classical and contemporary compositions from around the world.

"MMQ play dead-straight, spot-on, and packed with freshness and vitality of a kind that is rare in material of this type. These are not down-scaled, make-em-easy, just-for-kicks charts either - they are a Major Thing. TRIPLE MUST!"

About the MMQ:
The Modern Mandolin Quartet was formed in 1985 to give a new voice to that most American of musical instruments, the mandolin. Following the tradition of the mandolin orchestras and chamber groups from the early twentieth century, the MMQ uses the instruments of the mandolin family which correspond to the conventional string quartet (two mandolins, mandola, and mandocello).

The Quartet's goals are to introduce audiences to the modern mandolin family of instruments, to increase the repertoire of original and arranged music for the instrument, and to bring the mandolin into the next millennium by commissioning new works.

Their early recordings, Modern Mandolin Quartet and Intermezzo, were explorations of the world of classical music using mostly transcriptions; Nutcracker Suite featured the first piece composed for the group, the first guest artists and the first complete transcription of a major work. Their 1994 recording, Pan American Journeys, explored music of the Americas; their 1999 recording, Modern Mandolin Quartet - Interplay, features pieces specially commissioned from David Balakrishnan (of Turtle Island String Quartet fame) and Utah composer Tully Cathey, as well as a string quartet by Terry Riley.

The Modern Mandolin Quartet members are Dana Rath and Matt Flinner (mandolins), Paul Binkley (mandola), and Adam Roszkiewicz (mandocello). The members of the Quartet come from diverse backgrounds including classical, jazz, rock, and folk.

To date the Quartet has arranged and performed over 90 works originally written for orchestra, chamber ensemble, piano, guitar, and string quartet, including arrangements of traditional classical music (Vivaldi, Bach, Corelli, Mozart, Ravel, Bernstein), string quartets (Mozart, Bartok, Dvorak, Villa-Lobos, Terry Riley), music from the mandolin's historical roots, (American Bluegrass, Brazilian Choro, Italian folk songs), and commissioned works (David Jaffe, Tully Cathey, David Balakrishnan, Philip Bimstein, Larry Polansky, and Edgar Meyer).

The Modern Mandolin Quartet began recording in 1988 with Windham Hill/BMG; they have released four albums to date, with sales in excess of 130,000 units worldwide. In addition to their own albums, the group appears on samplers from Polygram Records, Well Tempered Productions, and Acoustic Disk. In 1994 the Quartet received a National Endowment for the Arts Chamber Music grant to tour and perform new American music. They are the 1995 recipients of a grant from the Meet the Composer/Lila Wallace - Reader's Digest Fund Commissioning Program, which funded David Balakrishnan's Interplay and Tully Cathey's Elements. These works premiered in 1997 at Merkin Hall in New York City; both are featured on Interplay.

Modern Mandolin Quartet - Modern Mandolin Quartet

Year: 1988
Label: Windham Hill (don't be fooled! this is not new-agey!)

Biography by Linda Kohanov
This ensemble was formed in the mid-'80s as the brainchild of Mike Marshall, an internationally acclaimed mandolin player best known for his work with David Grisman and Montreux. Marshall was looking for a way to bring respectability to an instrument primarily known for bluegrass and quaint folk tunes. Toward this end, he established a string-quartet-style group featuring the extended family of mandolin instruments. Marshall and Dana Rath play standard mandolins (which take the place of violins), John Imholz plays mandocello (with a range similar to the cello), and Paul Binkley holds up the middle with his mandola (the alto counterpart to the viola). Together they interpret well-known classical works and premiere newly commissioned compositions of "serious mandolin music."

Review by Linda Kohanov
A fine debut for Windham Hill, it's not quite as sophisticated as Intermezzo.

1 Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins (Vivace) - Bach - 3:22
2 Canzonetta - Mendelssohn - 4:07
3 Abendkonzert - Hindemith - 2:48
4 Teasing Song/Limping Dance - Bartok - :48
5 Pizzicato - Bartok - :54
6 Asturiana - DeFalla - 2:07
7 La Vida Brevé (Dance #1) - DeFalla - 3:40
8 Galop - Stravinsky - 1:52
9 Assez Vif et Bien Rythme - Debussy - 4:34
10 Pavane Pour la Belle au Bois Dormante - Ravel - 2:07
11 Lebhaft - Hindemith - 1:09
12 Langsam - Hindemith - :53
13 Dance of the Maramaros - Bartok - :37
14 Valse (Ma Mie Qui Danse) - Bartok - 3:25
15 Alla Danza Tedesca - Beethoven - 3:46

vinyl, cleaned | mp3 >192kbps VBR | w/o scans | 61mb

* out-of-print

enjoy! (and maybe if I get some good responses I'll post some other classical treasures)

oh, and if any of you have Modern Mandolin Quartet - Interplay or the 2004 Re-Recording of Nutcracker Suite, I'd love to hear 'em!

August 24, 2010

The Music Gatherer

Hey folks,
Sorry I haven't been posting much lately. 'Real life' has gotten increasingly busy.

Here's a great blog I just discovered:

The Music Gatherer:
Rare and Obscure Scottish Folk and Traditional Music

Beautiful stuff!