What the Reviewers Say

VRCD 312 Grant Lamb: Manitoba Fiddler

I Remember meeting Barbara Lamb, the wife of the late Grant Lamb, on a trip to Manitoba in the mid-'80's, when I was 15 or 16 years old and had just started fiddling myself. I remember the awe with which I spoke to this friendly woman; "This is the wife of the man who wrote 'Grant Lamb's Breakdown'!" I kept reminding myself. I had just learned this tune, adding to my repertoire of a number of "traditional" old-time classics. To almost know the person who wrote on of my tunes seemed to be a big deal to me at the time. So I am especially pleased to see "Grant Lamb's Breakdown", played by the man himself, on this new release by Voyageur Records.

The first 20 tracks on this CD were recorded in Seattle in 1874 and originally issued as VRLP 312; the last 10 tracks, previously unreleased, were recorded, also in Seattle, in 1978. Basic, solid accompaniment is provided by Vivian William on piano, Gordon Tracie and Richard Marvin on guitar, Phil Williams on bass and Stan Guernsey on tenor banjo. The banjo is an interesting addition, since I've never heard a banjo backing up musicians in Manitoba; however, it blends in easily, adding a slight timbral exoticness and fullness to the band. Grant Lamb himself wrote the liner notes for the original LP, with additions to this CD by producers Vivian and Phil Williams. Grant provides a brief biography, crediting his very musical upbringing (both his parents played in dance bands), and notes on the origins of the tunes in his repertoire. Not surprisingly, he learned many of them from his parents.

The names of the tunes can be confusing. As Vivian and Phil Williams point out, Grant didn't know the names of a lot of his tunes, which is not unusual, and so he often named them after his friends, for example "Vivian's Polka" and "Davy McDonald's Jig." The nomenclature of the tunes also can be confusing. "Bagot Two-step" and "Bob Leaders' Two Step" [sic] are in 6/8 metre, and therefore more properly called jigs. "Phil's Clog" and "George Neddery's Clog" are played as reels rather than with the slow tempo and dotted rhythms of a British Isles-derived clog or hornpipe. I've not come across these particular examples of "flexible nomenclature" before; the fact that they each occur more than once suggests that it is not a mere mistake on the part of Lamb or his producers.

Lamb provides a broad variety of repertoire in these 30 tracks, including: 12 reels, hornpipes, and clogs (all played as reels); five jigs; five waltzes; three two-steps (but two in 6/8, played as jigs); two polkas; one schottische; one four-step; and one minuet (alternating sections between waltz and two-step). Many of them are "good old tunes" that bring back to me hazy memories of 1970s fiddle jams in Ontario: "Gerrard's Favorite" (known in Ontario as "Elliott's Favourite"), "Opera Reel", and, of course, "Grant Lamb's Breakdown", written by Grant in 1952 and subsequently recorded by Don Messer.

Lamb's playing is quite plain, with not a lot of ornamentation and a few scratches and scrapes, but with a life and energy that beckons to dancers. There can be no mistake that this is dance music, intended to be danced to. One criticism often leveled at today's young fiddlers (and not always rightly so) is that they don't know how to play for dancers, that they're missing the right tempo and "lift" for dance music. Short of regular experience playing for dancers, which is not always so easy to come by in some areas these days, listening to recordings of some of the great old dance fiddlers, like this recording of Grant Lamb, is the best way to improve this (perceived) deficiency. Unfortunately, the tracks are not long enough to roll up the carpet and actually practice your dance moves!

This recording is important for fiddle scholars because it documents the fiddle repertoire and style in a particular time (1970s) and place (rural Manitoba); however, more importantly for fiddle fans, it contains a broad variety of dance tunes and about an hour of solid fiddling. (Sherry Johnson - Canadian Folk Music Bulletin)

*****

Grant Lamb is a 60 year old Manitoba farmer who has amassed an impressive reputation as a fiddler in Central and Northern Canada. All but two of the tracks on this record were unknown to me and all were played with the competence that one would expect from a Manitoba State Champion. It makes a pleasant change to hear a type of fiddling different from the standard "Texas Style", which is becoming all too common, even outside Texas. (Cotton Patch Rag)

Speaking of fiddling, many people in the area will wish to purchase Grant Lamb's recently released record. It is a real collector's item as many of the tunes recorded have come down through several generations of Grant's family and were without names until this record was taped. Bagot district will be pleased to know there is a Bagot Two Step and one called the Elsmith Four Step. Phil and Vivian Williams of Voyager Recordings in Seattle have made a fine tribute to Grant. (Portage La Prairie Daily Graphic)

Grant Lamb (b. 1915) was a Canadian farmer and old time dance fiddler from the Portage la Prairie area located to the west of Winnipeg, Manitoba. His parents were dance musicians from Ontario who had joined the late 19th century westward migration to the prairies. His musical apprenticeship began early within his own family and he started fiddling at country dances in the 1930s. Fiddle contests were held from those years; Lamb was Manitoba fiddle champion from 1953 to 1955.

His rendition of the thirty tunes on this recording were mostly learned from his family. He recorded them in Seattle, Washington, in 1974 and 1978 during annual pilgrimages to that city. Vivian (piano) and Phil Williams (bass) are the main accompanists. The tunes include polkas, hornpipes, jigs, clogs, breakdowns, reels, and waltzes. Lamb's style was evidently forged in the dance hall; it is rhythmic, disciplined, and driving. He was a very competent player - clean and sweet - and the recording quality is excellent. This is a wonderful window on the dance tune repertoire and style common in Canada during the 20th century. (Fiddler Magazine)

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