Most bands practicing old time music these days fall into one of two categories: strict traditionalists, whose albums sound as if they could have been recorded at the Bristol Sessions, and those who take the stripped down sound of the old time style and add in more modern touches from other genres. With their latest release, Outshine the Sun, the Foghorn Stringband places themselves firmly in the first category.
Recorded with a single microphone beside of a woodstove in mandolin player Caleb Klauder’s home, this project has an organic, live feel, reminiscent of early “hillbilly” recordings from the 1920s and ’30s. The album is packed full of tunes, with twenty-one traditional pieces pulled from a variety of inspirations.
Several of the songs here are attributed to the Carter Family. Gospel Ship is upbeat and joyful, with fine fiddling replacing the guitar accompaniment of the Carters’ version. Distant Land to Roam is much more faithful to the original, with a mournful feel. While Homestead on the Farm also sticks closely to the Carter Family’s arrangement, bluegrass fans may recognize it from the Flatt and Scruggs or Mac Wiseman versions (although Wiseman recorded it as “I Wonder How the Old Folks Are At Home”).
The slow-paced Come All You Virginia Gals finds the jaded narrator warning other ladies to stay away from West Virginia boys, who will doom them to a life of “johnny cakes and venison and sassafras tea” in a clapboard shack. Another song with West Virginia ties is the Hazel Dickens piece Just a Few Old Memories, which has more of a bluegrass sound than most of the album and is delivered with emotional, heartfelt vocals.
Listeners will likely feel the urge to dance when listening to Humpback Mule and Salty River Reel, both lively fiddle tunes. There is also a spirited version of Whoa Mule, complete with a couple sung choruses. These instrumentals are some of the album’s strongest tracks, along with the Gospel number Going Home, an earnest duet pulled from Surry County, North Carolina band The Pine Ridge Boys and Patsy.
Outshine the Sun is just about as authentic as it gets in terms of old time music. However, while the group sticks to traditional arrangements, the music still sounds fresh. The band, consisting of Caleb Klauder (mandolin and fiddle), Stephen Lind (fiddle and banjo), Nadine Landry (bass), and Reeb Willms (guitar), is extremely talented, and has chosen songs just obscure enough to not have been over-recorded. While twenty-one songs is a bit long, the majority of the songs are very enjoyable and fans of old-time, string band music should certainly check out the Foghorn Stringband.
For more information on the band, visit their website at www.foghornstringband.com. Their new album can be purchased from a variety of online music retailers.