On their much-anticipated fourth release, Hazelnut, the Seattle-based bluegrass/old time duo, Squirrel Butter, presents us with another collection of traditionally-based music. Consisting of husband and wife Charlie Beck and Charmaine Slaven, the couple performs a variety of acoustic styles such as old-time, early country and blues.
Out of the eighteen tracks on Hazelnut, ten are written by either Beck or Slaven. Freight Train Mama by Charmaine has creative subtle lyrics, though the rhythmic and melodic content are pretty much what you would expect from a composition about trains.
I Just Had To Let You Know by Charlie is a piece that easily lends itself to multiple interpretations. The lyrics are crafted in such a way that it not only paints a picture, but also puts the listener in the shoes of the song’s protagonist exceptionally well.
Mama Never Played, also by Beck, tells a touching story of a mother’s love for her child. Labeled as “autobiographical fiction” in the project’s liner notes, this song also touches on the impact that music can have on a child’s life. It’s a piece that could apply to any musician or traditional music lover.
Waltz For Charmy is a banjo instrumental written by Charlie for Charmaine, a captivating piece that’s punctuated by the bowed bass playing of Matt Weiner. There’s several other tracks where Weiner contributes bass and occasional harmony vocals, giving Squirrel Butter a fuller sound at times.
There’s quite a few traditional pieces scattered throughout this album as well. Pond Creek, learned from Paul David Smith, showcases Beck’s unique old-time banjo picking, while Pretty Little Shoes/Cluck Old Hen demonstrates his ability on the fiddle.
Charmaine is also a proficient fiddler. Her capabilities can be heard on Greenback Dolly-O as well as Roses In The Morning. It’s also worth mentioning that Slaven is a skilled flatfoot dancer, which can be heard on a few of the aforementioned tracks.
Wagoner’s Lad is a piece that the couple learned from Kate Peters Sturgill. Recorded by many artists such as Doc Watson and Joan Baez, Squirrel Butter’s rendition is very smooth and a great example of Slaven’s vocal stylings.
Hazelnut is a nice mix between new and old. There’s plenty of stylistic variety to keep the listener engaged and drawn in. Squirrel Butter has produced another great recording of traditional acoustic music.