Dry Branch Fire Squad 30th Anniversary compilation

Here’s another post from our all-the-more regular correspondent, Richard Thompson. He writes from England, where he is also a longstanding contributor to British Bluegrass News, a quarterly print publication where he also briefly served as editor.

Dry Branch Fire Squad - 30th AnniversaryRounder Records will release a second anthology of material from the Dry Branch Fire Squad. Entitled Thirtieth Anniversary Special (Rounder 11661-0585-2) features 21 tracks from the group’s catalogue for the 20 year period since the release of their previous anthology, Tried And True (Rounder 11519).

The Dry Branch Fire Squad has been described as “like a missing link between old-time music and bluegrass, both in their selection of material and the way in which they approach it.” For three decades now, the beloved Dry Branch Fire Squad has been a bastion of mountain soul, bluegrass, and old-time music – carrying timeless traditions into the modern era with a blend of reverence, soul, and wit all their own.

Under the stewardship of Ron Thomason, Dry Branch Fire Squad has weathered the storms on the sea of time, all to forge an iron-clad brand of defiantly rugged old-time and traditional bluegrass music that imparts essential reminders of the past while unafraid to meet the future head-on.

So, it is not surprising that the collection contains a wide variety of songs, from a solo rendition of G B Grayson’s I Saw A Man At The Close Of Day and He’s Coming To Us Dead, both of which characterise the old time element of the band’s repertoire, the former with a spare fiddle and banjo accompaniment and the latter with just a banjo; a few modern ‘country’ songs. Carolyn At The Broken Wheel Inn and We Believe In Happy Endings, a Carter family song, several from the Public Domain or under the “Traditional” motif – the most notable in this category being The Honest Farmer, a vocal quartet with just fiddle and banjo accompaniment and Long Journey, with two keening voices and a single guitar; an a cappella quartet, Dip Your Fingers In The Water; Bruce Phillips’ Orphan Train, which is one of the group’s most requested songs; and a lesser-known Carter Stanley composition, Rollin’ On Rubber Wheels.

The icing on the cake, so to speak, is the duet that Thomason does with the great Hazel Dickens on Hide You In The Blood, from the Memories That Bless And Burn album.

Also there are four previously unreleased tracks, He’s Coming To Us Dead, a recording from the two dates that the Dry Branch Fire Squad did at Newburyport Firehouse in November 2002; Over In The Gloryland recorded at the bands’ latest sessions in December of last year; Golden Rain and How Great Thou Art, both of which also featuring the current quartet, of Ron Thomason, Brian Aldridge, Dan Russell and Tommy Boyd. The last named, the final track on the CD, is an instrumental arrangement.

Helping Thomason steer a course through these choppy seas that have sometimes afflicted the bluegrass world since 1987 are, in addition those already mentioned, Charles Leet (bass and vocals), Mary Jo Leet (guitar and vocals), Suzanne Thomas (banjo, guitar and vocals), Dave Edmundson (fiddle and vocals), John Hisey (banjo and vocals), Dick Irwin (bass), Bobby Maynard (fiddle) and Adam McIntosh (banjo, mandolin and vocals).

When asked about the collection, Thomason, in his usual droll fashion, comments,

“I remember once trying to get the author of a book on T.S. Eliot and metaphysics to sign his book and he sat there for the longest time looking dumber than even I and finally said, ‘Please leave the book and come back in a day or two; I’ll try to think of a significant comment.’

That’s pretty much the position I’m in here. Once the songs are recorded I’ve used up about all I know. However, in the matter of a possible disclaimer I could wax eloquently in order to avoid future misunderstandings and possible lawsuits: It would appear that up to 30 years of Ignorance of what it might take to appeal to the ‘general public’ has finally been compiled onto one CD, and as it turns out all of the songs are by the Dry Branch Fire Squad. It makes me proud to know that when the need for such a product has arisen, we’ve always been there.”

Thirtieth Anniversary Special will be released on May 15.

Thanks are due to Ken Irwin and Rounder Records for permission to quote from the sleeve notes to this new CD.