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Monday, February 20, 2012


the cover--jeanette williams, scott freeman, johnny williams
photo by gail agett cooler

Finally got a copy of this new release, this month, Scott had for sale at the Front Porch this week. The week before, they were all in Nashville for the spbgma bluegrass awards where Jeanette scored best female traditional singer. She shows her singing talent on this album like on all her others with The Jeanette Williams Band. This project, FREEMAN AND WILLIAMS, makes me want the radio show back so I could play this beautiful music to my listeners, who, by this time, would know all these musicians and be happy to hear this new music by three of SW Virginia's finest. I get this longing every time I find a new cd from the region, like when Larry Richardson's lp with Buddy Pendleton playing fiddle was re-released on cd and I heard it the first time. I wanted to play it to my listeners. Kevin Fore's Round Peak cd with Kirk Sutphin makes me long to play it to my listeners when I hear it. This one, Freeman and Williams, is another one of them that makes me long for Sparta to have its radio station back so I could put their music in the Alleghany County air on Saturday mornings. I'd play the album all the way through, every song. I'd play some other things by Jeanette, by Johnny and by Scott for context.

The song list is arranged so the experience of hearing the music flows from one song to the next naturally. These three people like a good-worded song, making a collection of their pick of songs a full album of songs that hold your attention by what they have to say, word by word, and the equally good musicianship and vocals. All are good singers. The album opens with a Tom T and Dixie Hall song, Always Looking Back. You can't see where you're goin if you're always looking back. That train that you're waiting for is way on down the track. The past is gone forever, that's a natural fact. You can't see where you're going if you're always looking back. Scott sings The Grandpa That I Know, a song that has depth of feeling Scott likes in a song. I like every song on this project. Every playing of the album, when a song starts, I'm delighted to hear it again. Jeanette singing, here I go down that wrong road again, even though I know where it will end, here I go down that wrong road again. Jeanette Williams' singing voice is beautiful.

Johnny Williams, Jeanette's husband, has been with Big Country Bluegrass the last few years. He's made music with Jeff Michael (fiddler), calling themselves Grass Tank. Johnny has been in the music world of the Central Blue Ridge all the way along. A couple years ago he made a solo album, Last Day of Galax, titled after a song he wrote. On a collection of regional musicians called Close Kin, Johnny sings Chilly Winds the best I've ever heard the song. He brought it to life for me. On this project, Freeman and Williams, Johnny sings his arrangements of June Apple and John Henry that give both old songs a new refreshing life. Like Scott, Johnny and Jeanette like to take old songs and give them a refreshing new touch. Johnny and Jeanette have played a couple of the Fiddle and Plow shows, making music with Scott and Willard at the Front Porch in Woodlawn, Virginia. They play before an audience of a dozen, Jeanette telling the audience she'd rather play for a few people who listen than to a big auditorium. They drive from Danville to play at the Front Porch.

Their new project is with Mountain Roads Recordings, Bristol, Virginia.  Karl Cooler put together a label for music of the Central Blue Ridge in Bristol. On his list is Big Country Bluegrass, Whitetop Mountain Band, the VWBoys, Jim Lloyd, Elkville String Band, Pathway, Johnny Williams and some others. I'm glad to see a new label on the scene for the music we have around here. Cooler's label has made a home for some of the better music of our region. With this album, I feel like I'm seeing Scott Freeman's artistry coming into its maturity. He's always been extra good, but now he has the flow of somebody who has played very well for a long time until he and the music he makes are one. I've watched Scott's musical life for the last 9 years. We met in 03 when I opened the music store in Sparta and Scott was needing a corner to teach in once a week. He was with Alternate Roots then. They'd just released their third project. He gave me a pass to Alternate Roots shows. I saw 14 of their shows, drove to Hiltons, Virginia, to the Carter Fold to see AR's last show. When they disbanded I felt the same grief as for a friend dying.

Hearing Jeanette and Johnny play at the Front Porch with Scott and Willard twice, this new project is music I'm already familiar with. It would be wrong to leave out saying I feel privileged every Friday night at the Front Porch. For a couple years I've been there most of the time, excepting ice storms and the Hillbilly Show, and sometimes too tired or out of money. I'd guess I have about 85% attendance. The music played there has become the music that plays in my mind during the day. I don't hear pop music any more except at other people's houses. I don't know who's doing what out there in pop culture world. Don't want to know. I'm happy with a concert every week by two musicians I respect the highest as human beings as well as musicians, and their visiting musician friends like Doug Rorrer, David Johnson, Wayne Henderson, Katy Taylor, Butch Robins, Buddy Pendleton, Bobby Patterson, Edwin Lacy, Steve Lewis, VWBoys, Johnny and Jeanette Williams. Scott's music has become the music that satisfies me in this time of my life. The privilege I feel is having a friend who is a musician the equal of Sonny Rollins or Taj Mahal. It blows my mind to know someone who is a musician as exceptional as Scott. He's a true artist. My respect for Scott is not only for his musicianship, which is stellar, but for his character, for who he, himself, is.

I've uploaded onto YouTube several songs by Jeanette and Johnny with Scott playing at the Front Porch for the Fiddle and Plow audience. Write their names in the search box and they'll pop up. Or you can write my channel's name in the box, hobblealong1 and they'll all come up. You can scroll down until you see Jeanette and Johnny. Or write their names in the search box. It's about 20 of us that go semi-regularly, and we love it like it's the best kept secret in the world and we're the ones blessed with the opportunity to hear the music of the Central Blue Ridge as good as it gets in a context as comfortable as home. Every week. We're a diverse bunch of white people in there. We're gradually getting to know each other, and after a couple years everybody is comfortable talking. One thread that runs through all of us is the feeling of privilege to hear music such as Scott and Willard make and their friends they sometimes accompany every week. At every show, during intermission and at the end, everybody I speak with is lit up exclaiming joy over the music. Everyone returns home fully satisfied every week. Sometimes people passing through, looking for "something to do," turn up for a show. They're blown away every time. Scott, Johnny and Jeanette are today's hillbilly music. Hillbilly music has always been amazing music. Today's is amazing music too.  

freeman and williams at the fiddle and plow, 8/6/2010
photo by tj worthington


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