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Review: There’s More Pretty Girls Than One, McCamy’s Melody Sheiks

There’s More Pretty Girls Than One
McCamy’s Melody Sheiks
[Aphoolie Records (2011)]

There’s More Pretty Girls Than One is a collection of old time fiddle and banjo tunes played and recorded with a style that makes them seem like a box of old 78 rpm records you might come across in grandpa’s attic, or if you’ve been lucky enough to have been present at a back porch jam session back in the days before TV and the internet demanded so much of our spare time.

Robert Crumb’s vocals may seem rather pedestrian, although they lend period flavor, but his musicianship is superb. The combination has a quirkiness that seems in character with the art and cartoons at the root of his fame. This recording offers insight into an era where musical tradition was more a folk art passed from hand to hand, much more diverse and spontaneous in nature. The early period of the recording industry, from which they draw their inspiration, was more about documenting an already-in-place tradition, rather than in influencing its direction. The excellent musicianship of these four ex-patriots and their long appreciation for the period’s music enables them to bring to life the era of the recordings of which the four are avid collectors.

The album starts off with a superb rendition of “Home Sweet Home” that sets the stage for what one of the performers, Ilan Moss, describes in the liner notes as: “Four Melancholic expats, nostalgic for the music of a period they never lived and homesick for an America or England that they were born too late to have seen.” R. Crumb plays tenor banjo and whistles in accompaniment with Ian McCamby’s fine fiddle work and Ilan Moss’s 5 string banjo. Stephen Harrison plays piano on this track. The cut has all the nuance and character of an old-time barn dance. The tracks to come feature the four swapping off on various acoustic instruments and playing with equal proficiency on each.

There are 17 cuts here: traditional tunes like the title track and “Billy in The Low Ground,” “Sail Away Ladies,” “Old Molly Hare,” and “Mineola Rag,” which have been the mainstay of barn dances, spontaneous back porch jam and fiddle sessions since grandpappy’s grandpappy was in knee britches. However there are a few rarities, that even grandpappy might not recall, like the “The Pig Ankle Rag” and “The Dill Pickle Rag.” There’s also a tune called “Saint Jobe’s Waltz,” with its haunting fiddle flourishes styled after “Red” Steely of the Redheaded Fiddlers, a group from Dallas, Texas, who recorded on the Brunswick label, which makes a strong case for the creative diversity of the pre-technology era.

This album, besides its documentary value is altogether delight to the ear, nothing fancy, just some fine pickin’ and old tunes as comforting as corn bread and bean soup on a winter’s evening.

—H. Stephen Patton (Baltimore, MD)

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