Fiddler Bruce Molsky has always been an ardent archivist. A former street kid from Brooklyn, he traded the bright lights of the big city for the rural environs of Virginia at a relatively early age. Over the years he’s gained a respected reputation as an educator, a prolific recording artist — both on his own and with others — and a musician who’s drawn high praise from the diverse crop of musicians with who he’s worked, Linda Ronstadt, Mark Knopfler, Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, Bill Frisell and Jerry Douglas, among the very many. A pair of Grammy nominations and a pronouncement from occasional collaborator Darol Ander that he’s “the Rembrandt of Appalachian fiddlers” further add to his accolades.
Molsky’s Mountain Drifters, a collaboration between Molsky, the equally astute banjo player Allison De Groot, and acclaimed guitarist, Slash Wyslouch, continues that tack, drawing on a selection of 16 traditional tunes with origins in Appalachia and the British Isles on their latest release, Closing The Gap. Not surprisingly, it’s difficult to differentiate which songs arrived from which specific sector. Greenback Dollar, The Little Carpenter and Hog Trough Reel each boast a lineage that reaches back to the early settlers on these shores, specifically, those that arrived from England, Ireland, and Scotland, and then integrated the sounds and styles of their early environs to the mountain music that blossomed in their new home. The only two tracks not borne from that lineage — the title tune, written by DeGroot and Sweet Bide, from the British folk singer Kate Rusby — still find a fit in both tone and treatment, resulting in a perfect mesh of archival interpretations.
Thankfully then, the trio make no real effort to ply the material in a contemporary context. The arrangements are pared down in a way that adds to the authenticity. While there’s an equal balance between vocal offerings and full instrumentals, the interplay between the musicians is the element that resonates throughout.
The sound may be spare, but the dexterity is dazzling. As the album title suggests, Molsky’s Mountain Drifters succeed in blurring the musical boundaries even while providing a vintage tapestry.
Closing The Gap is available from the Tree Frog Music label.