It takes a special skill set to master the sound of old time music – one that not many musicians have. There are certain nuances to the playing, performing, and singing that are hard to develop if you don’t steep yourself in the traditional sounds of Appalachia, the Ozarks, and beyond. One of the most talented old time groups I’ve had the pleasure to come across lately is the Roe Family Singers, otherwise known as Minnesota-based husband-and-wife duo, Quillan and Kim Roe. They play six traditional instruments between them and are joined by a rotating cast of supporting musicians on their albums, the most recent of which was recently released by Pinecastle’s Bonfire Recording imprint. Roll Up the Rug! includes fifteen tracks – a mixture of traditional numbers, a few originals, and some bluegrass and country favorites.
The album begins with one of the couple’s original songs, the Gospel track What Did He Say? It’s a catchy, toe-tapping number about the message in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, urging listeners to “treat folks how you want to be treated.” The song is guided by Quillan’s banjo, and features some nice fiddling from Richard Kriehn, as well. Also from the Roes’ pens is Don’t Worry About the Rich Man. According to the Roes, the song was influenced by recent legal cases in which wealthy, well-known people received incredibly small sentences for financial crimes. The song contrasts the lack of worries the “rich man” has with the struggles of poor folks. While the music is upbeat and bouncy, the lyrics have a bit of a bite to them.
The Roes offer a fine version of The Rocky Road Blues, featuring smooth, soulful vocals from Kim. It has a slower, bluesier vibe than most bluegrass versions, bringing to mind Jimmie Rodgers. Dock Boggs’s Country Blues is also a highlight, with spot-on instrumentation and mournful vocals. Like so many old time songs, Country Blues is fairly dark, both in lyrics and instrumentation, and eerie effects from Adam Wirtzfeld’s musical saw help set the mood. On a lighter note is The Red River Valley, which lopes along gently with tender vocals from Quillan.
Sourwood Mountain offers up a textbook example of old time music, complete with Appalachian clogging from Joe Hayes to help set the rhythm. The Roes include the song’s lyrics instead of presenting it as an instrumental tune, as is more common in bluegrass circles. Quillan offers energetic, enthusiastic vocals, mimicking a live performance. This number captures the idea behind the album’s title perfectly – rolling up the rug and clearing out the furniture because it’s time to dance. I kept waiting on the square dance calls to start. The Ram of Darby has a similar sound and rhythm, just ready for someone to jump up and start clogging.
All in all, even if old time music isn’t necessarily up your alley, this is an enjoyable album that will you have ready to put on your dancing shoes. It’s not all straightforward string band old time – there are a few bluesy songs, some more reminiscent of popular music from the first half of the twentieth century, and so on – but it’s all performed skillfully with obvious enthusiasm.
For more information on the Roe Family Singers, visit them online. Their new album is available from several online music retailers.