Label: Ramble Records
Format: Album, Digital/Bandcamp
Release Date: 30 Oct 2022
The name Blake Hornsby is by now quite familiar to TimeMaZine (Timemachine Productions) readers… Blake is responsible for one of the best album releases of 2020, the magnificent “Teetering on the Edge of the Void”. Blake is a musician that lives in the Appalachian countryside, Blake experiences Folk music that deals more with the Avant Experimental Psychedelic side of the American Primitive Guitar establishment… I was so impressed by his music and his creations that I contacted him for a chat/interview, back in March 2022. You can check the interview here … Anyway, Blake dives deeper into exploring the roots of Folk music with his new collection of recorded songs, called “A Collection of Traditional Folk Songs and Tunes Vol. 1”. It is very important to read carefully (of course you’re advised to do so while listening to the album) the notes that Blake wrote about this album… Sure, the notes are extensive and thorough, and help you not only understand the songs, and the music, but also the whole background of the so-called early Folk movement… The whole thing, music, songs, and notes, acts like a dissertation by a student that tries for his Ph.D.!
This album is a collection of traditional folk songs and tunes primarily of English, Celtic, and Appalachian origins. Before introducing the material, I would like to give some background.
First off, I will explain why I use the words ‘song’ and ‘tune’. The difference between a song and a tune is that a song has lyrics and a tune does not. Some tunes have lyrics, which would be a song, but when it is performed without lyrics, it is a tune. This is not uncommon, especially with numbers like ‘Old Joe Clark’. Personally, I’m not much of a stickler for this, but this is a technicality that some folks take seriously.
Most Appalachian (‘app-uh-latch-in’) and Celtic fiddle tunes are structured in an AA-BB format. This means that there are two melodies: the ‘A’ melody is played twice and the ‘B’ melody is played twice. This is repeated as long as the group or individual wants. After numerous repetitions, which could be only two or hundreds, the fiddler raises their leg to signify to the rest of the musicians that it is the final round. Other tunes may be structured in AA-BB-CC-DD, AA-B, or various other forms.
There are two songs on this album that I refer to as Child Ballads. This refers to Francis James Child who conducted extensive research in the late 1800’s to compile an anthology of English and Scottish folk ballads.
Francis J. Child was recognized as an advanced intellectual at a very young age. He was selected to go to Harvard by an elder who saw his potential and convinced Child’s parents to let him go to college. Child excelled in every subject, notably mathematics, classics, and English, reportedly able to write better than anyone in his classes. Child began working as a math tutor at Harvard and soon transferred to history and political economics. He continued to work at Harvard until his death in 1896. (Kittredge 1882)
Francis J. Child anthologized and edited what is known as The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, commonly known as ‘The Child Ballads’. He collected over 300 ballads that he published to text. These included as many variants, verses, and historical information that he could source.
The final two songs on this album are Child Ballads.
I decided to record this album for a few reasons. I had been thinking about recording an album of traditional music for a year or so. I originally went into the studio in May 2022 to record ‘Cruel Sister’. I wanted it to be a one-off single, however, the session wasn’t finished and I had to go back to Nashville months later. In between the ‘Cruel Sister’ sessions, I decided I wanted to record banjo tunes that I had been playing for awhile, as well as some other traditional material I’d been working on. It all came very fast and I realized that I should just release another album. It turned out to be a lot more work than I was expecting, especially once I decided to write these extensive liner notes.
Though banjo is my secondary instrument, there are very few recordings with me playing it. My partner Gaia has been playing since she was very young and contributed to two numbers on the album as well. The first part of the album features mainly the banjo, however, thanks to the last few songs, there are a total of 28 instruments on this record.
I would like to thank my principle banjo teacher, Matt Evans for introducing me to a new (old) world of music and teaching me the traditional clawhammer banjo technique.
I would also like to thank Pentangle and the Incredible String Band who were great at adapting traditional material within their work.
I also thank contemporaries like Espers, Hare and the Moon, United Bible Studies, and Mike Gangloff (Pelt, Black Twig Pickers), who have all inspired me to go forth with implementing traditional music into my repertoire.
I cannot end this introduction without giving some praise to Harry Smith. Smith compiled the Anthology of American Folk Music in the 1950s. This not only helped preserve many old recordings, but it also brought fame to previously unknown artists. The Anthology is important and wonderful beyond words and I cannot give it enough praise. I have to thank Matt Evans again for introducing me to this compilation.
Lastly, I would like to thank all of the fantastic musicians, engineers, and company who made this album worth listening to: Samuel Fanthorpe, Jonathon Sale, Gaia Lawing, Joseph Ridolfo, Jerry Wallace, Drew Carroll, Ben Hjertmann, Luke Craig, Andrew Preavett, Anders Peterson, Madison Hedrick, Michael Sill, and whatever you call the interconnecting force that is everything.
Thanks to all of my friends, family, and fans who have supported me through the years. I love you all.
This tune was taught to me by my first, and primary, banjo teacher, Matt Evans in Chattanooga, Tennessee, circa 2013. Matt was the one who introduced me to old time music in early high school. I had a resonator banjo and expected to learn bluegrass. I had no idea what old-time music was. Soon after my first lesson, he convinced me to get an open back banjo, which is traditionally used in old time Appalachian music. Shortly after, Matt taught me that old time is way better than bluegrass and how to shit-talk bluegrass players (in joking fun of course!… Kind of).
Matt learned “Washington’s March,” or colloquially “Warshington’s March,” from the legendary banjoist and fiddler, Dwight Diller. Diller’s version can be heard on his albums Jericho Road and Piney Woods. It is in the unusual tuning of F#ADAD.
This tune is believed to be of Appalachian origin. Though the tune may be a derivative of George Washington’s Grand March of 1788, the first known recording is by Edden Hammons of West Virginia who recorded it on fiddle in 1947. Dwight Diller is a West Virginian fiddle and banjo player who was friends with the Hammons family where he likely learned the tune. There are not many recordings of this tune and Dwight Diller most certainly created the arrangement that Matt taught me. (Kuntz 2019)
Blake Hornsby: Steel String Banjo
“Cousin Sally Brown”
This tune is of Appalachian origin, at least from what I have found. I learned it in a class taught by Alex Hooker at Appalachian State University, which was part of my minor in Appalachian Music. There could be a connection to the sea shanty ‘Sally Brown’, but I could not find evidence. The sea shanty sounds somewhat similar, but is not consistent with the AA-BB formula.
I adapted “Cousin Sally Brown” to my style in 2022. I have listened to other versions and they definitely sound different from what I was taught, but that’s how folk music goes I suppose. The first known recorded version was in 1942 by fiddler Marcus Martin in Swannanoa, NC.(Moser 1942) This variation is in double C tuning (GCGCD).
Blake Hornsby: Steel String Banjo
“John Brown’s Dream”
This fiddle tune is believed to have originated from either southwestern Virginia, or western North Carolina. It is one of the many tunes named after a well known abolitionist who was hanged in the mid-1800s. Da Costa Woltz’s Southern Broadcaster’s was the first to officially release a recording of this tune to the public in 1927. The earliest known recording is by Cowan ‘Fiddlin’ Powers & Family from Virginia, though it wasn’t released until decades later. I think I’d heard Tommy Jarrell’s recording first, which may be the most well known version. (Kuntz 2022)
I play ‘John Brown’s Dream’ on a fretless banjo, also called a ‘mountain banjo’. In comparison to the modern banjo, the body is much smaller and the strings are nylon (called nylgut). Traditionally, banjo strings were made out of guts and the body was a gourd. While this banjo is not authentic to the original African banjo brought to the Americas, it certainly has a more traditional sound relating to the original.
The particular banjo I play on this track was created by my friend John Peterson. He specializes in building fretless mountain banjos (and running!) and has shipped countless banjos all over the world. This tune works really well on the fretless. I play it in standard G tuning (GDGBD).
This tune is in the melodic pattern of AA-BB-CC-DD.
Blake Hornsby: Fretless Banjo
“Big Eyed Rabbit”
This Appalachian number is mostly known in northwest North Carolina and southwest Virginia. It makes sense that I learned it while living in Watauga County, for it does not seem popular outside said regions. The first known recording is from Samantha Bumgarner & Eva Davis in 1924 for Columbia Records. Though I learned it as a tune, it does have a few lyrics about hunting rabbits. I have a pet rabbit, so I will not sing them. (“Chasing Down the Big Eyed Rabbit” 2021) Tommy Jarrell has also recorded a fantastic version of this one.
Blake Hornsby: Fretless Banjo
The first time I heard this one was from the fantastic version by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman on their album Not For Kids Only. While I thought it had its roots in Appalachia, it does not, but they are close. Sandford C. Faulkner was born right outside of Appalachia in Georgetown, Kentucky, just north of Lexington. Faulkner is credited for composing it in the early to mid 1800s. In 1863, it was adapted furthermore by Mose Case, who is often credited as the original composer. (Worthen 2021) “Arkansas Traveller” is often performed as a novelty song, though it is not uncommon to perform it as an instrumental, as I do on this album.
Blake Hornsby: Steel String Banjo, Bowed Steel String Banjo, Shruti Box
“Old Joe Clark”
While many speculate that this song dates back to the late 1800s, there has only been evidence to show that it is from the early 1900s. ‘Old Joe Clark’ really is the quintessential Appalachian fiddle tune and one of the most well known. It is often taught to students as their first or second tune on the banjo, fiddle, or dulcimer. The earliest documented version of the song is from 1905. While it is not uncommon to play as a tune, there are about 100 verses that have been collected. The exact origins are unknown, but is most likely from Kentucky. (Kuntz 2021) (Jabbour 1966)
I was directly inspired to perform ‘Old Joe Clark’ in this particular way from Joseph Ridolfo, the sitar player. Joe recorded a similar version on his immaculate album South Meets East. He and Jerry Wallace, the didgeridoo player, have been playing it together for years and I’ve joined in on their jams in the past. They normally play it in C with their band Organized Kaos. Sam Fanthorpe plays it in A, which is the standard key that the vast majority of folks play it in. This version we play in G.
Blake Hornsby: Fretless Banjo, Mandolin, Guitar
Gaia Lawing: Steel String Banjo
Sam Fanthorpe: Fiddle
Jonathon Sale: Tablas, Spoons
Joe Ridolfo: Sitar
Jerry Wallace: Didgeridoo
Madison Hedrick: Shruti Box
“Cruel Sister” (Child 10)
The story behind this ballad is believed to be rooted in the 1600’s in England, though very similar stories arose from Scandinavia. “Cruel Sister” is also known as “Binnorie,” “Two Sisters,” “Twa Sisters,” or “Oh the Wind and Rain.” (Minstrelsy Educational Website 2022) The earliest published version of this song was was in the 1650s in England under the name ‘The Two Sisters’. (Caffrey 2002)
‘Cruel Sister’ is a very sinister story about a dark haired girl who was jealous of whom her yellow haired sister was about to marry, so she drowned her in order to marry the knight who was courting her. In old traditional ballads, they would sing “dark girl,” “black girl,” or “yellow girl” based on the color of their hair. Most old ballads value yellow, or blonde, women as more attractive, or desirable, than brunettes for whatever reason.
The yellow haired girl drowned and was found on the shore by some minstrels. They took the bone of her breast, cleaned it up, and strung it with three locks of her hair to make a harp. The minstrels brought the harp to their father’s hall where the dark haired girl was getting married.
The harp itself sings the story of the dark haired girl drowning her sister. The song ends with “surely now her tears will flow,” indicating that the dark haired sister was humiliated, for she had been caught. Who would have thought that some random people would find the body, make it into a harp, then happen to bring it to the affiliated wedding, and then the harp sings the story? That’s pretty bad luck if you ask me. What are the odds? She certainly deserved it though. There is no known mention of what happens after this point.
As with many folk songs, there are different variations of melodies and verses while the story is relatively the same. This version is adapted from Pentangle’s ‘Cruel Sister’. My arrangement is directly inspired by Pentangle’s, as I play the guitar part in the the style of Bert Jansch. I also use all of the verses, though slightly modified, that they used.
While looking through volume one of the Child Ballads, I came across ‘Riddles Wisely Expounded’ (Child 1). It appears that this particular ballad has the repeating lines ‘Lay the bent to the bonnie broom’ and ‘fa la la la la la la la la la’. Pentangle uses this refrain, but I have found it in none of the versions of ‘Twa Sisters’, ‘Binnorie’, etc. It was likely a creative ‘mash up’ as the kids would say.
Blake Hornsby: Guitar, Vocals, Backup Vocals, Singing Bowls, Bells, Kazoo, Shruti Box
Gaia Lawing: Steel String Banjo
Sam Fanthorpe: Fiddle, Backup Vocals
Jonathon Sale: Tablas, Singing Bowls, Goat Nail Shaker, Brushed Piano Strings
Joe Ridolfo: Sitar
Jerry Wallace: Didgeridoo
“House Carpenter” (Child 243)
This ballad is credited to Laurence Price who published it in London, 1657, under the title ‘James Harris (The Daemon Lover)’. In the United States, it is known as ‘House Carpenter’. It is number 243 in the Child Ballads and, while Child compiled Price’s verses, all of the other verses collected were of Scottish origin. (Bigger 2016)
English, Irish, and Scottish versions tend to be more detailed and embody a supernatural nature in the lyrics, while the version heard in Appalachia detail a somewhat more grounded story. The story I’ve known details a man coming back to a previous lover to find she is married with children. He convinces her to leave her children and husband to go away with him. She agrees and they both go out on a ship together and, before long, it sinks. This is known as ‘House Carpenter’. Price’s version is a bit more detailed. (Bigger 2016)
In Price’s version, the man (James Harris) is supposed to wed the lady (Jane Renalds), but he was drafted to serve on the sea. After hearing of his death, Jane marries another and starts a family. Years later, a spirit comes to Jane’s door and convinces her that it is James. The spirit takes Jane out on a ship and they sink. Once her current husband returns and realizes she’s gone, he hangs himself, leaving the children. Some interpretations believe it was actually the spirit of James, while others indicate that it was actually a demon or even the devil itself.
After reviewing the original 32 verses in Price’s publication, there are few that I sing. The song evolved a lot from 17th century Britain to early 20th century southern Appalachia. (Bigger 2016)
The earliest known version is (“Carolina Tar Heels” 2022).
I first heard this song from Clarence Ashley’s recording on the Anthology of American Folk Music. This was the only version I listened to for awhile. Then I heard Pentangle. Then I heard Doc Watson. Then I heard Bob Dylan. Then I heard Joan Baez. The list goes on with this one.
I based this primarily off of Clarence Ashley’s and Pentangle’s versions, my favorites. Ashley, who recorded it in the late 1920s, is the Appalachian folk version. Pentangle, while British, based their’s off of the Appalachian version as well (according to Basket of Light liner notes. They also mention the connection to the ‘Daemon Lover’.).
This recording is mainly a collection of verses from Clarence Ashely’s and Pentangle’s version, but with pinch of the others I mentioned. I also changed a few lyrics to make it flow more with my style; the folk way of doing things. At first, I felt that I had too many verses, but if I omitted any of these, it wouldn’t tell the full story.
Blake Hornsby: Guitar, Vocals, Backup Vocals, Mandolin, Steel String Banjo, Bowed Steel String Banjo, Bowed Guitar, Bowed Pianoette, Bowed Bifur (Courtesy of luthier, Ben Hjertmann), Shaker (Courtesy of luthier, Jerry Wallace), Shruti Box, Maximal Drone Synth, Singing Bowls, Bells, Slide Whistle, Flexotone, Kazoo, Jaw Harp, Effects,
Sam Fanthorpe: Violins
Jonathon Sale: Tabla, Throat Singing
Joe Ridolfo: Sitar, Hulusi
Jerry Wallace: Didgeridoo
So, “A Collection of Traditional Folk Songs and Tunes Vol. 1”, is a 33-minute long album that contains 8 traditional Folk songs, tunes… It seems that Blake has put all of his magical abilities into this project, presenting an ‘old-school’ FOLK album, that sounds so old but so modern simultaneously! I believe he succeeded in bringing all this Folk primitivism into the modern era! Of course, my personal highlight of the album is the final track, the glorious magnificent 13min and 28sec “House Carpenter”. Blake took this old traditional song and threw it inside a magical boiling PSYCH pot, he managed to change a bit the ‘Shape’ of it, transforming it into an extraordinary creepy psychedelic mind-expanding Masterpiece! And… Give Blake his Ph.D., he deserves it! TimeLord Michalis
|2||Cousin Sally Brown||1:29|
|3||Big Eyed Rabbit||1:05|
|4||John Brown’s Dream||2:04|
|6||Old Joe Clark||4:13|
Listen/Buy through BLAKE HORNSBY Bandcamp
Listen/Buy through RAMBLE RECORDS Bandcamp
Check/Visit BLAKE HORNSBY Facebook