Seems like we haven’t had any old time music reviewed here for a while so it’s a pleasure to introduce Fiddle & Banjo AKA Karrnnel Sawitsky (fiddle) and Daniel Koulack (banjo), a Canadian duo who mine similar territory to Cahalen Morrison and Eli West but more closely resemble Appalachian scholars Anna & Elizabeth who we reviewed a few months back. They share the timeless quality that permeates traditional music, taking music from the past (some of it familiar to the listener from childhood songs or from the numerous visitations of musicians on albums over the past eighty years, and some not so familiar) and imbue them with a freshness, a new life, a new version for those musicians and listeners yet to follow.
The album title is derived from the duo’s stated intention of joining up the Canadian dance music they grew up playing with those age-old Appalachian songs and tunes that have influenced them and a host of other string players. The result is a superb (and superbly balanced) set of traditional numbers and their own tunes. Familiars such as Killin’ Floor, How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live and Arkansas Traveller rub shoulders with some fine inventions from the pair. Several of the tracks are medleys of traditional tunes (helpfully noted in the liner) and one cannot help but marvel at not only their dexterity but the telepathy in the playing, Koulack playing clawhammer style as Sawitsky fiddles creating a rarefied atmosphere that is just thrilling and at times spine tingling; whether playing a waltz time tune or setting up a reel they weave magnificently.
Excellent as these forays into an instrumental heaven are, the album is enhanced greatly by the presence of guest Joey Landreth who sings and plays Dobro on several songs here. His finely wearied delivery offers a touchstone for those who might find an instrumental album somewhat daunting. In addition the songs allow Sawitsky and Koulack freer rein to saw away in a less measured fashion than on the instrumentals as on the frenzy the whip up on Little Birdie. Landreth’s Dobro also provides some bluesy touches to Skip James’ Killin’ Floor and the closing magisterial reading of How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live. Finally, they get extra points for opening with a brief rendition of Pete Seeger’s Goofing Off Suite, a wonderful tune and going back to an original point one that will be familiar to fans of Raising Arizona.
Wrapped up in some fine packaging the album is a wonderful window into the past and will surely appeal to anyone who gets a nice chill when they hear that high lonesome sound.