Bluegrass Now, April 1997
Playing time: 50:01
Sandy River; Cotton Eyed Joe; Mississippi Breakdown; Little Sadie; Texas Gals; Johnson Boys; Logan County Blues; Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm; Four Cent Cotton; Cornbread, Molasses & Sassafras Tea; Dark Hollow Blues; Elzik’s Farewell; Pretty Little Girl; How Many Biscuits Can You Eat This Morning; Kentucky Whiskey; Bright Morning Stars
This young quartet has given us a terrific album of old-time music. Performing regularly in the Asheville, North Carolina, area over the past few years has provided them with an opportunity to blend energy and talent into a thoroughly delightful string band. Frank Lee (banjo) and Cary Fridley (guitar) share vocal responsibilities and a background in bluegrass. David Bass plays the fiddle with extraordinary authority and energy, and Denmark-born Hanne Jorgensen is rock-solid as the bassist. Together the four combine to create an ensemble that is musically very tight and driving.
The favorite music of the band is that from the 1920’s and 1930’s, and this album is clearly a celebration of that period, drawing on traditional sources for the 16 cuts. Many of the tunes are well known old-time standards, but they are delivered here with a power and vitality that few can match. Bluegrass music fans often think that old-time music is uniformly comprised of lengthy tunes that are difficult to distinguish individually. That is not the case here. Although there are a number of fast-paced dance tunes, there is ample variety to sustain interest throughout the album. My favorites include "Cotton Eyed Joe," the source of the album’s title, "Dark Hollow Blues," and the striking a cappella rendition of the spiritual "Bright Morning Stars."
Listening to some of the songs is also a way of taking a little trip back in time to the period before bluegrass. "Dark Hollow Blues" is a predecessor to the song that is now a bluegrass standard. The song "Johnson Boys" was recorded by Flatt & Scruggs in the 1960’s, while "How Many Biscuits Can You Eat This Morning?" was the theme music used on the WSM Martha White program before the Martha White theme was composed. If you like old-time music, you should thoroughly enjoy this album, but if you haven’t had much interest in the old-time songs before now, this album just might change your mind.
Bluegrass Unlimited, July 1997
It’s been a long time since a recording of such enthusiastic young players has graced this CD player. The energy screams from this recording with the boundless energy of youth. While other bands’ influences are present, this is an innovative outing by this young, North Carolina band.
At 20-something, these musicians have learned their lessons well from their immediate elders in the tradition. In this case, local pickers in their community jam sessions and not-so-local pickers who have assumed teaching roles at various music camps and schools that have proliferated throughout the country have been their instructors. This has resulted in traditional music that embraces many of the stylistic changes that have occurred in the last decade or so. The influence of Richie Steam and the Red Hots respectively, is evident in the banjo and fiddle playing on this recording.
The version of "Little Sadie" with its menacing fiddle, strummed banjo and dissonant harmony singing is very reminiscent of the Chicken Chokers. The Freight Hoppers are also able to get into the tradition and make it sound like good mountain music.
This is a very talented quartet. David Bass plays fiddle in a driving style full of short bowing. This results in an incessant push that is used to drive the tune along. Frank Lee’s banjo echoes Bass’s fiddle, often matching it note for note and always playing for the drive. There is a sensibility to his playing that frees it for flights of melodic and rhythmic fancy. The driving guitar work of Cary Fridley is up in the mix and drives the tunes home with the surety of a roofing crew trying to beat the rain. She punches up the time with some good bass runs as well. Her vocals are wonderfully appropriate. She gives "Bright Morning Stars" a heartfelt reading in her only lead vocal. She should sing lead more often. Elsewhere, her harmonies satisfy especially on "Gray Cat On A Tennessee Farm" where she and Frank go at it like they are burning ticks. The bass is fairly buried in the mix. It would be interesting to hear the bass beefed up a little. It could have added another dimension to the drive of this enthusiastic band.
If you can accept the idea that tradition is dynamic and open to constant change, then you will find a lot to like in this recording. If, on the other hand, you are from the moldy fig school, you may find that the occasionally frenetic fiddling misses the point of the tune or the banjo takes in appropriate flights into the outer limits of the tune. But as they prove time and time again, they can get down and do it old time. Listen to "Johnson Boys." They kick Fred Crockerham’s "Logan County Blues" into the next county with the surging power of a runaway coal truck negotiating the "S" curves off of Clinch Mountain. The Freight Hoppers are a refreshing band that manages to bring a spontaneity to old-time music.
While their influences are evident, they are well on the way to establishing themselves as the next hot band in old-time music. (Rounder Records Corp., One Camp St., Cambridge, MA 02140)