The Great Smoky Mountains Association created quite a stir with their 2016 album, On Top Of Old Smoky – New Old-Time Smoky Mountain Music. A collection of new recordings of classic mountain folk songs by prominent acoustic artists, the album won a number of awards and has served to help finance the work of the Association in preserving and promoting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The artistic side of the project was helmed by Ted Olson, Professor of Appalachian Studies and Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music Studies at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. Most of the tracks were recorded in the department’s studio with Olson producing.
On Top Of Old Smoky was the third such project from the Association, and a fourth has just now been released. Ted is again the producer, with a widened scope of artists interpreting songs from the great Smoky Mountains ballad tradition. Big Bend Killing – The Appalachian Ballad Tradition features another stellar set of traditional music icons, from both the US and the British Isles, giving voice to these ancient stories.
A primary theme of the album is the connection between Britain and the mountains of the eastern US, where immigrants settled and modified their lives and culture to suit a new environment. Folklorists have found many songs common in the Appalachians have an ancestor in various British folk spheres as well.
There are performances on Big Bend Killing from such notable artists as Rosanne Cash, Doyle Lawson, Archie Fisher, Alice Gerrard, Sheila Kay Adams, Martin Simpson, Jody Stecher, Kate Brislin, David Holt, John Lilly, Elizabeth LaPrelle, Amythyst Kiah, and Laura Boosinger with the Kruger Brothers. Many of the songs will be familiar to students of the genre, but some will be new to even studious proponents. Each track included on the 2-CD set has an accompanying description which explains its history, and a copy of the lyrics.
Thanks to Ted and the Association, we have one of the tracks we can share with our Bluegrass Today readers, Doyle Lawson’s stark recording of Banks Of The Ohio. Well known to bluegrass fans from the many versions that have been cut over the years, Doyle here offers a stripped-down arrangement with just his voice and a guitar, as the song may have been sung for generations in the hills and hollers.