What The Reviewers Say

VRCD 316, VRCS 316 TWIN SISTERS

In late 1974 Barbara Lamb, the renowned Nashville session player and six-year founding member of Ranch Romance, was an eager young fiddle student of 15. A classically trained violinist, she had first become interested in folk fiddling four years earlier with the old Swedish tunes played by her parents and their friends. Her first exposure to bluegrass came when she heard veteran Seattle fiddler Vivian Williams, who eventually became her teacher, and she was never the same again. "There was some kind of variety show with her Scandinavian fiddle band and our band," Williams remembers. "She heard me play "Orange Blossom Special", and that's what got her started. She was twelve years old when she started taking lessons. In FIDDLER magazine she describes how she was Mark O'Connor's teacher and had to fire him because he'd learned everything she knew. Previously, I had to do the same thing with her. Of course, now she knows a whole bunch that I don't know, but while she was my student she never beat me in a fiddle contest; that only came later. We had a ball!"

During the next three years, Barbara Lamb got her share of experience with country fiddling through Oldtime Fiddlers Association jam sessions, the Northwest Regional Folklife Festival, and trips to the national championships at Weiser, Idaho. In the fall of 1974, Phil and Vivian Williams proposed a fiddle duet album to Barbara Lamb for their Voyager record label, with the backing of their bluegrass band, Tall Timber. "She was still my student at the time," says Vivian, "but she was exceedingly advanced." By January 1975 the recording process was finished, and the resulting album, TWIN SISTERS, became one of Voyager's biggest sellers. The good news is that this Northwest fiddle classic, long out of print on vinyl, has just been re-issued on CD.

With the familiar fiddle tune "Leather Britches", the album gets off the kind of rousing start that threatens to levitate your CD player. With Barbara Lamb playing the melody line and Vivian Williams harmonizing, this set romps exuberantly through a procession of deservingly famous Appalachian hoedowns and Celtic reels, a Swedish dance tune, a compelling waltz treatment of "Annie Laurie" and the beautiful "St. Paul Waltz", an old-time melody that Eddy Arnold eventually incorporated into his immortal western hit "Cattle Call." The slightly asymmetrical hoe-down "Hell Among The Yearlings" is cleverly engineered to provide a change of pace. In contrast to the full band accompaniment that characterizes the rest of the album, this tune is backed only by Barney Munger's solid, easygoing banjo to create an old-time pre-bluegrass sound. While the rest of the album features the two fiddles at stereophonic center stage, this one places Barbara Lamb on the left channel and Vivian Williams on the right, giving the listener a new perspective from which to enjoy the fiddle interaction. "Sugar In The Gourd" follows the same formula with the addition of some rhythmic spoon-playing for good measure.

Of course, no set of fiddle tunes succeeds without strong, appropriate accompaniment, and here Tall Timber fills the bill spectacularly. Banjoist Barney Munger and mandolinist Phil Williams get their best solos in on the hoe-down "Big Sandy River", a long-time staple of the band's bluegrass repertoire, and the album's closing track, a tasty "Florida Blues". The only thing that remains to be said is that nearly twenty years after its initial release, TWIN SISTERS still stands as one of the most inspired fiddle records of all time. Superbly recorded in the mid-1970's at Phil and Vivian Williams' home studio, its new CD re-issue is characterized by a degree of warmth and clarity typical of Voyager products. Any record collector who still argues that compact discs can't deliver the natural ambiance of the old vinyl albums need listen only briefly to this one, and the debate will be over. (Heritage Review)

*****

This was first issued on vinyl in 1975 and remains a favorite fiddle album of mine. Vivian, who then was tearing up the contest scene and anchoring some of the Northwest's finest bluegrass, plays the harmony fiddle, while Barbara, now-better for her stint with Ranch Romance, plays the lead fiddle. They blister their audience with hot renditions of several old time fiddle standards, beginning with a torrid "Leather Britches," and proceed to toast some Canadian tunes as well. They also play sweetly in waltz time and on the old chestnut "Annie Laurie." The rest of Vivian's band at the time, Tall Timber, abet the cause in the background, with Phil Williams on (mostly rhythm) mandolin, Dick Marvin on rock-solid rhythm guitar, Lou Harrington on steady bass, and Barney Munger on understated banjo. This is all appropriate because this album is meant to revel in the two fiddles. A fine contemporary photo (I wish a contrasting photo from the time of the recording were included, though) sets off the package nicely. This should become a welcome addition to the collections of those who do not already own it. (Victory Review)

*****

There is a nice variety on this CD, and it should appeal to bluegrassers, old-time musicians or anyone interested in fiddle music. There are a number of excellent twin fiddle versions of old standards that never grow tiring.... Barbara and Vivian execute two-part harmony on many of the tunes, and the result is a solid, enjoyable collection of fiddle music that can be enjoyed over and over. (Bluegrass Gazette)

*****

Barbara Lamb and Vivian Williams are not sisters, but they play these 18 twin fiddle tunes in harmony close enough to be worthy of the title of this recording. The all-instrumental collection is an interesting mix of upbeat, danceable songs, with jam session favorites alternating with lesser known numbers. For instance, they've included a driving version of "Leather Britches," and a lyrical cut of "Forked Deer". The duo slows the tempo occasionally to feature a waltz, such as "St. Paul Waltz," or the lovely "Annie Laurie," tunes seldom heard in the southeast. The wide-ranging selections reflect a variety of national influences: Scotch, Irish, Swedish. The haunting title cut, "Twin Sisters," is of French-Canadian origin.

The songs were actually recorded in 1974 and 1975 and re-mastered for this release. Lamb, a practiced fiddler by the age of 12, was a founding member of the band Ranch Romance. She plays lead fiddle on this project, and Williams, her former teacher, plays the harmony. Williams began her fiddling career around 1960; she has long been a stalwart performer on the west coast bluegrass scene. The backup work was provided by the Seattle bluegrass band Tall Timber, Williams' band at the time of the recording. Barney Munger on banjo, Phil Williams on mandolin, Dick Marvin on guitar, and Lou Harrington on bass add tasteful licks, but allow the fiddles to star.

If you like fiddle music, especially the sound of twin fiddles, the fine fiddling heard here won't disappoint. You may even find yourself wishing for a 20-year reunion rematch. (Bluegrass Unlimited)

*****

The Pacific Northwest is not commonly regarded as a haven for fiddlers, but it has produced two of the finest in Barbara Lamb and Vivian Williams. This was recorded back in 1974 and 1975, before Lamb made a name for herself as a founding member of Ranch Romance and in her subsequent solo career. Vivian Williams, who was one of Lamb's teachers, has long been heralded as a master of Celtic, old-time and bluegrass styles. Twin Sisters is a rousing, all-instrumental recording of fiddle duets that mostly stays close to the bluegrass end of things. Williams plays inventive harmony to Lamb's lead lines throughout.

Lamb and Williams mesh perfectly, the material is diverse and Tall Timber's backup is exemplary, if a tad tame compared to the fiddling pyrotechnics. Opening with a blazing version of "Leather Britches," the album includes a number of other old favorites such as "Mason's Apron," "St. Anne's Reel" and a dazzling version of "Tennessee Wagoner." (Sing Out)

*****

Throughout the recording, Lamb plays lead with Williams providing excellent harmonies, and the band is in the background where it belongs on a fiddle record. The fiddling is superb, adventurous without being flashy. (Dirty Linen)

*****

There really isn't much to say about this album other than -- if you like fiddle music, and especially fine twin fiddling, then you are in for a rare treat! From all aspects this is an extremely well-conceived and executed album. The backup instrumentation compliments, rather than conflicts with, the fiddling. Both Barbara and Vivian have been exposed to varied influences that have molded their styles and tastes. The result is a delightful blend. We have no hesitancy in enthusiastically recommending this album to any and all readers. (Devil's Box)

*****

They pull it off with taste and inventiveness all the way through. This is no mean feat, as anyone who has ever dragged a bow across the strings will attest. That they pull off double fiddle arrangements on as many as 18 tunes is admirable, and even more impressive is the fact that they play some unusual and difficult tunes. "Twin Sisters," a French-Canadian tune, is a real beauty, and so is "Gardebylaten," a Swedish tune. Of course, it's great to hear Vivian and Barbara romp through such standards as "Forked Deer," "Hell Among the Yearlings," and "Big Sandy River."

In short, Twin Sisters is as potent a fiddling duo as any. If not a slick as Kenny Baker and Joe Green, Barbara Lamb and Vivian Williams play arrangements as interesting as Baker and Green, and they get their elbows into every note.

All in all, Twin Sisters is top notch. Simply a great job. (Folklore Forum)

*****

A nice job of twin fiddling on 18 tunes by these two gals from the Northwest... The numbers are played in appropriate tempos and with a good sense of time and beat. (County Sales Newsletter)

*****

The "Twin Sisters" play some of the sweetest and hard driving double fiddling you're ever likely to hear. On the eighteen selections you will be thoroughly impressed that these girls play great Bluegrass music. (Country Times)

*****

Traditional fiddle music by 2 women who are not sisters but play as if they are. Twin fiddling is an art - the musicians must know each other's playing styles & limitations & they must practice together a lot. Both women often improvise, & the tunes reflect the contributions of each. (Ladyslipper Record Catalog)

*****

Fine old time fiddling ... Recommended. (Disc Collector)

*****

Fiddling has always excited the very soul of a bluegrass crowd. There's something in a good fiddler that pulls joy out of almost any heart and excites to hand-clapping, foot-stomping exhilaration. There is no doubt that Twin Sisters fiddling would bring a whole screaming, cheering bluegrass crowd to its charged-up toes!

The Twin Sisters are Barbara Lamb and Vivian Williams who are, without a challenge, a pair of the finest fiddlers you're ever likely to hear. Barbara plays lead and Vivian harmonizes in some of the sweetest and, also, hard driving fiddling ever recorded.

This album is a definite must for anyone who loves fiddle music. There are eighteen excellent cuts out of eighteen. (Walnut Valley Occasional)

*****

Not only are Vivian and Barbara excellent fiddlers in their own right, but they also have a great empathy for each other's playing.

In the past, it seems that the few double fiddle recordings available either suffered from over-arrangement (resulting in a sound like the Lawrence Welk string section) or they featured two hot soloists competing with each other (with the listener losing the contest). Twin Sisters, in contrast, is twin fiddling, conceived as and performed as such. Vivian and Barbara complement rather than compete with each other's playing, and yet the excitement and feeling of good fiddling is definitely there. (Folkscene)

*****

The pieces are well played with a great deal of drive. (Journal of American Folklore)

*****

Clean, strong, bright, smooth, driving - all these adjectives apply to the double fiddling of "twin sisters" Barbara Lamb and Vivian Williams, originally from the Puget Sound area. The two women are not in fact sisters, but apparently they played together a lot at the time of this recording (the CD is a digital remastering of 1974-75 sessions). Williams, who plays harmony fiddle here, was one of Lamb's first fiddle teachers. Their playing certainly meshes tightly. Williams' approach to harmony is not homogeneous, but there's a lot of parallel thirds. Able and tasteful backup is provided by members of the Seattle bluegrass band Tall Timber. If you want a benchmark, I'd say the sound reminds me of Lyman Enloe on Fiddle Tunes I Recall (County 762), backed up by Bluegrass Generation.

The play list is somewhat eclectic: old-time standards like "Leather Britches" and "Forked Deer" alongside the Scottish "Mason's Apron," the Swedish "Gardebylaten" and the French Canadian "Twin Sisters." Most of the program is made up of pieces from the South, but one does not get a feeling of a regional "grounding." These folks are skilled musicians. If you like high-energy twin fiddling you'll likely enjoy this CD. (The Old Time Herald)

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