While there have been several recordings based around interpretations of old time tunes on the harmonica, Cary Moskovitz from Chapel Hill, NC takes it a step further. North Carolina Breakdown is a collection of instrumental pieces that are played on the free-reed wind instrument, but in the same register as the fiddle.
Moskovitz took a minimalist approach with the instrumental backing and that was an appropriate choice. While featured on harmonica of course, Cary also accompanies himself on rhythm guitar and banjo. This instrumental configuration especially works on Old Sally Goodin’ which Moskovitz learned from the legendary Kentucky fiddler, Art Stamper.
It’s obvious how much these pieces are patterned after the fiddle player’s arrangements. On tunes like New Five Cent Piece, Climbing the Golden Stairs, and Sugar In The Gourd, the different instrumental components such as phrasing and timing are spot on.
Waynesboro, Billy In The Low Ground, and Rye Straw are slower pieces that are each played in the same tempo. While these are good tunes in their own right, having them back to back made for a bit of a plodding listen. The title track North Carolina Breakdown, however, moves along at a nice steady pace.
Duck’s Eyeball is the most captivating tune on the recording. Featuring just harmonica, the use of double stops was particularly impressive and yet another example of how closely Moskovitz patterned his arrangements after old time fiddlers.
This album closes with an original composition by Cary, Charles Murphy Waltz. Though it was written in modern times, Moskovitz captures the old time feel in this tune perfectly.
North Carolina Breakdown is an intriguing release. Cary Moskovitz has demonstrated some unique capabilities of the harmonica. Though he says he considers learning these fiddle tunes “an interesting and challenging process of translation,” he does so reverently and effectively.