In recent years UK bluegrass veteran of over 50 years-experience Tom Travis has often got together with his long-time picking buddies, the much-praised Jaywalkers – Jay Bradberry, fiddle; Lucy Williams, bass; and Mike Giverin, mandolin – and Stu Williams, banjo, to play at a few of their regular haunts to play for enthusiastic audiences in the north-west of England.
For three of these performances Dai Thomas, of Acoustic Redeye Records, agreed to handle the sound on each occasion and, as an afterthought, he was prompted to record the concerts. The outcome is the recently released CD, Tom Travis & Friends Bluegrass Ancient & Modern Live!
In case it’s not already apparent, Tom Travis is the self-appointed ‘ancient’ ingredient, and his friends bring the modern elements, as is evident in the many excellent breaks that are scattered throughout the album.
So, the modern are three early 20-somethings whom Travis considers “are the nearest thing to the elixir of life,” and a slightly older and elder brother Stu Williams.
Although an excellent songwriter, Travis hasn’t included any of his own songs on his latest album.
So, invigorated by youth Travis demonstrates vocal authority with renditions of three Bill Monroe favorites, Can’t You Hear Me Calling? Kentucky Waltz, and On My Way Back to the Old Home; Mr Engineer from the pens of Jimmy Martin and Paul Williams (Humphreys); I’ll Be Your Stepping-Stone (from J.D. Crowe’s Keith Whitley era); Let The Whole World Talk, the title song from the Johnson Mountain Boys’ 1987 LP; Hazel Dickens’ A Few Old Memories and Hot Corn, Cold Corn, sometimes, as here, attributed to singer and guitarist Asa Martin. Alongside these are two blues staples, Milk Cow Blues Boogie, written and originally recorded by Kokomo Arnold; and Take This Hammer, from Huddie Ledbetter (aka Lead Belly); and the no-less bluesy Get Rhythm from Johnny Cash; before closing with the Carter Family classic Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
Even before reflecting on the instrumental tracks on this CD, it is apparent that Bradberry, Giverin, and Stu Williams have had a great musical education as they display virtuoso picking with jazz, folk, and rock music influences.
Lucy Williams is rightly praised by Travis for her bass playing at the end of Milk Cow Blues Boogie and Get Rhythm, showing herself to be as much of a consummate musician as her picking friends. These two rockabilly duets are only a stones-throw away from Travis’s start in music as the winner of a Skiffle competition.
Road to Columbus and Foggy Mountain Special both allow that extra freedom of expression.
In recent years Travis has enjoyed a rounder and richer delivery of the lower notes in his vocal register, and he is well supported by Giverin’s tenor part and Stu Williams’ baritone. It is clear that the audiences are delighted with all the performances, and now with this new CD, audiences far and wide can enjoy Travis and his young cohorts.
The more that I listen to this CD the more I enjoy it.
A successful launch party for the album took place on August 20, 2019, at the Connie Club, Frodsham, Cheshire.