Edwin in the Lowlands from Thomm Jutz and Martin Simpson, with Tim O’Brien

Topic Records has announced a September 29 release for an interesting new project that explores the convergence of British folk music and that of the Appalachian mountains of the southeastern US. It is a joint effort from a pair of ex-pats now living in America, noted English folk artist Martin Simpson, and German born Nashville singer/songwriter Thomm Jutz, entitled Nothing But Green Willow: The Songs of Mary Sands and Jane Gentry.

The genesis of this effort can be found in Thomm’s fascination with the early 20th century publication of English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians, compiled by Cecil Sharp in 1916 and 1918. His primary focus was on the songs Sharp and his assistant Maud Karpeles discovered in North Carolina during their 1916 visit. Their quest had been to find English folk songs that had lost their currency back home, but were still being sung in the US.

Sharp and Karpeles came across Mary Sands and Jane Gentry in western North Carolina who had retained versions of the very songs they had been seeking. Their experiences taught them that these ballads that had all but disappeared back home were still being sung in the Appalachian region.

Jutz interested Simpson in this project, and the two began poring over English Folk Songs, and jointly choosing ones to be included in their upcoming album. With the selections made, they went on to enlist a bevy of contemporary pickers snd singers to join them, with Sierra Hull, Justin Moses, Dale Ann Bradley, Tim Stafford, Tim O’Brien, Tammy Rogers, and Seth Lakeman among them.

A new single from the Nothing But Green Willow, an iconic murder ballad called Edwin in the Lowlands Low. Tim O’Brien is called upon to sing and play fiddle, accompanied by Martin and Thomm.

Jutz says of the song…

“I love that the protagonist here is referred to as ‘Edwin’ in the title, but as ‘Edward’ throughout the song. The quirkiness of these old songs makes most contemporary music taste like stale bread. The violence is astounding, but it’s not used in a ‘shock and awe’ kind of way. These were tough times, but at second glance not that different from today.

I remember listening back to this recording at the session, and how Martin Simpson busted with joy every time Tim hit one of those high vocal notes. Tim is almost 70 but sounds 17. To boot, Tim sang, and played fiddle at the same time. What a guy!”

O’Brien shared Thomm’s appreciation of this ancient song.

Old folk songs are like myths in that they sorta teach us lessons, as in here’s what happens when you do X in a situation Y. One lesson here is don’t be waving your fat wallet around! Advice to a young suitor is to meet the parents early on.

I love having a little context. Many times I’d driven past the house in Hot Springs, NC where this song was transcribed. It always looked like a nice B&B but now I imagine Jane Gentry, seated on the front porch waving a fan and singing.”

It’s a lovely arrangement. Have a listen…

Pre-orders for Nothing But Green Willow are enabled now online. Radio programmers can get the tracks via AirPlay Direct.

The album also contains extensive liner notes from Ted Olson.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.