Us “old foggies” know the locomotive sound and feel of a Paul Warren fiddle breakdown with Lester Flatt, Cousin Jake, Uncle Josh, and Earl Scruggs – or one of his followers (Haskell, Vic or Big Kenny) – backing him up. They start so deliberately, then subtly accelerate to warp speed in perfect meter, rhythm and restrained power.
Way back in 1983 Paul’s son, young fiddling’ Johnny Warren, made Just Playin’ in the Rain for Rebel (REB 1614), and Charlie Cushman was there helping out on banjo. Johnny and Charlie’s Tribute to Paul Warren Vol. 1 came out in 2009. Charlie and Johnny have been heard as sidemen on a variety of traditional bluegrass recordings for decades. Cushman is a well-known working musician and banjo guru. Johnny Warren, on the other hand, has a day job as a golf pro, of all things.
Here’s the big picture — if you appreciate the old Foggy Mountain/Nashville Grass sound, here it is again for the first time on Tribute to Paul Warren Vol. 2. Every IBMA instrumental group of the year can just put this CD in the truck and take a long ride out in the country. It’s not just great fiddling by Johnny Warren. It’s not just the banjo work of Charlie Cushman, who plays more like Earl than Earl or anyone else. It’s the ENTIRE BAND SOUND! It’s the Foggies again.
The work of the “special guests” is tasty. Appearing as Lester Flatt on guitar, is Del McCoury! You don’t hear Del’s typical front-beat guitar licks and rhythm, oh no. You hear the echoes of Flatt’s quirky rhythm, and runs that he reserved for fiddle breakdowns. I didn’t know Del could do this, and I’ve listened to Del a long time. What a great surprise.
Appearing as Cousin Jake with the bass fiddle, is Nashville’s Kent “Superman” Blanton. Kent uses that beautiful “climbing” up-the-G string lick in the first line of the fiddle break in Lonesome Road Blues exactly as on the iconic Foggy Mountain Banjo LP. Nobody else playing bass fiddle today knows that old stuff and shows it this kind of respect. Especially appreciated is his frequent use of the old upside-down 2 – 5 notes on a 5 chord, the “Nashville Five.”
Appearing as Uncle Josh on the ol’ hound dog guitar is Flux himself, Jerry Douglas. Now Flux is known as being original and “flashy” (to put it mildly). Rightly so, he pretty much invented an entire new style of Dobro playing that swept bluegrass. But Jerry knows that when backing up a fiddle tune Uncle Josh played mostly rhythm, with maybe 2 or 3 brief licks here and there. You can tell Jerry Douglas grew up on Flatt & Scruggs music; here he plays Uncle Josh to perfection on Lonesome Road Blues and Randy Lynn Rag. He takes a nice old-sounding break on Johnny Warren’s original tune Right at Lyles. Mainly he shows restraint and taste.
On about half the tunes, Bryan Sutton plays slap rhythm on an old Gibson L5 arch top guitar. On these numbers, Flux backs off the brush stroke on his steel guitar (I abhor “resophonic”). With Sutton’s perfectly restrained guitar work, the band sound gets even closer to the Flatt & Scruggs mid-1950s feel.
Ricky Skaggs picks mandolin on just one tune, Cattle in the Cane. Extremely good music! It would make a one-legged pirate get up and dance. Hell! It would make a bishop kick out a stained glass window!
Other nice touches include: a live recording of Paul Warren performing his feature piece Old Joe on an Osborne Brothers’ concert (when an ill Flatt had to take his band off the road for a while); nice photos; and liner notes by the musicians, including Charlie’s rundown of the vintage instruments used (e.g. Skaggs is playing Pee Wee Lambert’s Lloyd Loar mandolin).
After Lance Leroy’s introduction, the music opens with a powerful Wild Horses with that rolling Foggy Mountain Boys sound and feeling. The only way I can describe that feeling is like a madly rushing river, but the musicians are floating on it calmly in little boats, and seeming to make their music without any sense of creating, fighting or altering the flow. They’re not “working” to make that powerful pulse, they’re riding it while they make it. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that sound.
Like his Dad, Johnny has mastered the Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith repertoire, and here he plays Smith’s Rag and North Carolina Breakdown.
Other Paul Warren favorites include Hop Light Ladies as the single fiddle/banjo duet, the speedy Florida Blues, and the steamrolling, cross-keyed Pretty Polly Ann.
How nice to hear Charlie kick off The Old Folks in open C, from Flatt & Scruggs Live at Vanderbilt LP, with Johnny taking nice breaks in his dad’s style. The song is actually Soldiers Joy renamed, and played kinda slow.
Johnny also admires the fiddlin’ of Big Joe Greene, who made two fantastic bluegrass fiddle LPs more than four decades ago. Johnny nails Big Joe’s tunes Kingsport and Road to Jenkins.
In conclusion, Johnny Warren and Charlie Cushman deliver an incredible achievement as producers and musicians. Good as Vol. 1 was, Vol. 2 is a quantum leap better due to the band sound. If you’re a bluegrass traditionalist needing your faith restored, you should experience this re-creation of the old Foggies’ music.
Kudos Johnny & Charlie! A Tribute to Fiddlin’ Paul Warren Vol. 2 is a triumph in recorded traditional bluegrass music. We should see you at the 2012 IBMA Awards!
Gotta run friends. Need to get up to Caratunk, Maine and pick up a load of tripe for the holidays! Hope to see you in the New Year!