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Monday, April 23, 2012

HEARING ALTERNATE ROOTS



The race today at Kansas Speedway was another race of the best driver in the best car won. No wrecks to put drivers out of the race who might have had a chance at the top 10. The only times we saw visibly aggressive driving came after the green flag following the yellow when the drivers were positioning themselves for the long run when they're strung out and not so easy to pass. They'd go 3 and 4 wide and the announcers went berserk anticipating some cluster wreck action, but nobody ever lost traction enough to hit another car, and only a few scrapes with the wall. Montoya left a long tire mark on the white wall. Truex in 56 led most of the race until Hamlin in 11 passed him with 30 laps to go and Truex never could catch up with him. With just a few laps to go, Truex made a desperate lunge to swing below Hamlin coming out of a turn and it didn't work. He became the more interesting driver to watch; he was running the tires off his car, giving it everything, but it just couldn't get past Hamlin.


Driving to Justin's in Ennice, I took a tape to play in the car by Alternate Roots. I say over and over that Alternate Roots is my favorite band, and when I hear them I always remember why. Katy Taylor singing Killing The Blues, Single Girl/Married Girl reminds me why I call Katy my favorite bluegrass singer. I maintain that with a million hours stage experience Katy would be the equal of Allison Krauss and Rhonda Vincent. That she doesn't have a million hours stage experience has a lot to do with why I listen to Katy and not the others. I'm tired of polished pop music. Never took to it. I've always liked music on the fringe, what I call art music. Like Patti Smith Group with Lenny Kaye guitar, an artful rock band. Rage Against The Machine too. In this time of my life I want music in the raw, live music by people of the region I live in, as well as recorded. People playing mountain music in its variety of forms is what satisfies my ears. Field recordings do it best.


I've listened to Scott Freeman's music and Willard Gayheart's for so many years I sing along with their music. It's in my horoscope and it works out that when I find something I like I stay with it. When I discovered Kenyan coffee, that's it. I don't care for any other but Ethiopian, which tastes the same. I can drink others, but my choice is always Kenyan. Columbian is good, Guatemalan is good, but Kenyan satisfies me completely. The others are good, but Kenyan totally satisfies. I like Scott and Willard's music so much that it's about all I care to listen to anymore, besides a good old-time fiddle band, like the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers. Since Alternate Roots disbanded after 4 superb albums, Willard and Scott have revived Skeeter and the Skidmarks, the band I like most to listen to now. Scott and Willard playing together satisfies my musical ear like Kenyan coffee satisfies my palate. The drive up highway 18 from Whitehead to Ennice with Alternate Roots in the sound system I felt joy the entire drive. Every song was my favorite. Every song I wanted to hear again, but it's too complicated with a cassette to do that, so I wait between songs for the next one that will make me want to play it again.


Steve Lewis's bluegrass banjo and lead guitar knock my sox off every time I hear him pick. Steve draws the best picking out of Scott that he has in him on the mandolin. Together, they are dynamic. I remember hearing a piece by Cannonball Adderley on alto sax and his brother Nat on trumpet, them playing with George Shearing on piano. The Adderley brothers played back and forth, in and out of each other so smoothly I thought of Scott and Steve jamming. They will play in and out of each other and get things going. Jazz is what they're playing. Scott understands that bluegrass is the jazz form of old-time, using old-time tunes in the early years the way jazz musicians played show tune standards in the be-bop period. Bill Monroe jazzed old-time initially for his own style. It took a life of its own and became bluegrass. Scott doesn't make bluegrass the same way Monroe or Flatt & Scruggs or Stanley Brothers made bluegrass. They made bluegrass their own way. Scott and Willard make bluegrass their own way. They satisfy my ear for bluegrass totally. So do the Stanley Brothers.


I never dreamed I'd grow into somebody who loves the Carter Family so much they make tears run. Stanley Brothers too. I've reached a point in my life where I can hear them without thinking them old-fashioned, of another time, or generally having no relationship to my life in the 21st century. They have a very direct relationship with my life. I love their music. That's all that matters to me. I think I got a clue to what it is in the music of Alternate Roots and Skeeter & the Skidmarks, Scott and Willard I like so much is that they play their music with soul. I know saying anything about soul in music is reserved for black, but a lot of white people have soul, and not all black people have soul. I noticed when Edwin Lacy was talking in his capacity as a Presbyterian preacher at Willard's wife's funeral, that Edwin had soul in the pulpit. Then I realized he played his banjo with soul. That's what it is that makes his banjo so special. From there, I realized it's the soul in Scott and Willard's music that appeals a great deal to me. That's not all of it, by any means, but it's a good part of it.


All the way home I heard Alternate Roots some more. It's an hour round trip and the music on the tape lasted an hour. Pulling into my parking space the first song was starting again. It was a heavenly drive hearing Randy Pasley's Dobro weaving in and out of the music, Katy's singing, Willard singing Robin D, Steve's banjo and guitar, Scott's mandolin and fiddle, the whole, including Tony Testerman on bass, carried me down the road in a state of good mental health. The clarity of the music, the soul in all the musicians, and especially the music itself. These people all play music, the real deal. Driving down the road hearing Alternate Roots again, those familiar songs I know so well, the banjo, mandolin, Dobro licks, the singing, the songs they chose to play. The tape I made years ago from their cd Branching Out, a beautiful work of art. Nice drive on the highway tonight.


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