What the Reviewers Say

VRCD 317 DUDLEY HILL - GUITAR: FROM A NORTHERN FAMILY


I loved this recording when it originally came out as an LP in the early 1970s, and hearing it again now after many years I have the same feeling. Mr. Hill, from the Northwest, has a lovely, relaxed and thoroughly musical style of guitar picking. He is tastefully joined on the 17 tunes by a number of different backers, notably Benny Thomasson on fiddle. Fine tunes, lovely playing. (County Sales Newsletter)

*****

Generally speaking flat-picking guitar music will fall into one of two very broad and basic categories; bluegrass or blues. Dudley Hill is an excellent flat-picker, whose music style cannot be so simply classified as he performs masterfully in both categories plus a few more thrown in for good measure. The music on this album mixes fiddle tunes, folk songs and even some swing band material.

For the most part, writers would have you believe that all the really great pickers and string musicians are from the south or "hillbilly" mountain areas of the country. All the musicians that back Hill on this album live in or around Seattle, Washington. These folks are equal in both their material selection and ability and technique to any string musicians, anywhere.

This writer prefers to not make comparisons between one musician or another, but such is necessary to describe this album. Hill's guitar work is not as driving and does not display the fast runs as does the guitar work of Dan Crary or Norman Blake. His improvising are not as complex as are many of Doc Watson's. His guitar work is as crisp and clean as any of those excellent musicians mentioned above.

Also of note and very worthy of mention is the excellent fiddling on the recordings provided by Frank Ferrel, Vivian Williams, Barbara Lamb and the truly great Benny Thomasson. Although the album features the guitar, any fiddle buff should find the album well worth the investment.

If you are a fan of good flat-picking guitar music, this album is a must addition for your collection. Recommended most highly. (Walnut Valley Occasional)

*****

In the 15 years since Doc Watson began translating traditional fiddle tunes into flat-picked guitar showcases, bluegrass and old-time guitarists have been battling it out to determine who's the fastest, flashiest, and most vehement of all. Consequently, flat-picking has degenerated from a folk art form into a craft in which manual dexterity and showy virtuosity count for more than personality and feeling.

Now along comes Dudley Hill who promises to change all that by adding subtlety, along with a dash of elegance to a much-abused technique. His tone is light, at times delicate, his attack is crystalline and understated, and his approach is flexible, allowing him to achieve a versatility even beyond that of Norman Blake. Many of the tunes on From a Northern Family will be familiar to followers of Northwestern U.S. and Canadian traditional music, but the arrangements heard here are both novel and intriguing.

The 16 tracks fall into six general categories. The opening Leather Britches might be called a typical flat-picking solo. Four tracks - Spotted Pony and Cotton Patch Rag stand out - are in the light-footed Texas style associated with guest artists Benny and Jerry Thomasson. Benny's bowed fiddle and Jerry's bouncy guitar rhythm are perfect mates for Hill's pliant lead.

Buffalo Gals and Weber's Drift, with Ellen Marx and Jeff Thorn of the Old Hat Band, a mock serious string band, are in the old-timey style with equal emphasis on Hill's guitar and Ellen's clawhammer banjo.

Off She Goes Jig and St. Anne's Reel are played Canadian style with distinctively ornamented Western Canadian fiddling by Frank Ferrel, tasty harmonica by Mark Graham, and a tough, strong piano accompaniment by Ellen Marx.

Fisher's Hornpipe and Whiskey Before Breakfast find Hill in the company of a Northwestern string band, Tall Timber, built around the twin fiddling of Vivian Williams and Barbara Lamb. The last cut on each side might be dubbed Northwestern Swing style with Barbara Lamb on fiddle and Scott Smith on piano. Their Panhandle Rag sounds a bit unsure, but Hill's guitar is certainly hot enough.

From a Northern Family should prove an eye-opener for guitarists, and a jaunty little gem for other listeners as well. (Audio)

*****

Dudley Hill is from Washington state and plays fiddle tunes on the guitar in From and Northern Family. His guitar style is rather delicate for this type of music, as if he strikes the strings very close to the bridge. Hill is heard here in various formats, with a banjo, a piano, a harmonica, a string band, etc. Texas fiddler Benny Thomasson, now a Washington resident, puts in an appearance on four pieces. Along with some similarly innovative bluegrass guitarists in recent years, Hill is pioneering in taking the acoustic guitar in Anglo-American folk styles out of the usual bassing and strumming roles. (Journal of American Folklore)

*****

The jacket states: "This is an album of Dudley Hill's very personal, special and beautiful guitar music. He is the kind of person other musicians like to gather around." I can believe it. This record, consisting of 16 instrumental numbers, is beautifully played throughout.

Frequently joining in is Benny Thomasson, "King of the Texas Fiddlers," another fine performer, as well as other instrumentalists on banjo, harmonica, piano, mandolin, bass, and spoons. That excellent string band, Tall Timber, is featured in two of the numbers.

The selections are a nice mix of styles: country, bluegrass, Western swing, old time Southern, Texas, and Canadian. Among my favorites: Leather Britches, Weber's Drift, Panhandle Rag, Sally Ann, and South.

All in all, a fine record, with good sound and adequate jacket notes. (New York Pine Woods Folk Music Club)

*****

In the early 1970s, flat picking fiddle tunes on the guitar was still a new and exciting musical idea. Doc Watson, Clarence White and Don Reno had led the way and a few others were examining this new approach to guitar playing. From a Northern Family became an underground classic and undoubtedly influenced many aspiring flatpickers.

Dudley Hill hails from the Pacific Northwest and began playing acoustic guitar when he was very young, later taking up the electric instrument. He discovered the music of Benny Thomasson and became enchanted with Benny's style. Dudley was surprised to learn that Thomasson lived just a few hours drive away. He had a chance to play with his hero and thus began a partnership that lasted many years.

From a Northern Family features Benny as well as many more of the Northwest players of the time. The recording features (among others) Vivian Williams, Barbara Lamb and Frank Ferrel on the fiddle, Jerry THomasson on tenor guitar, Mark Graham on harmonica and Phil Williams on mandolin.

The selections are a fine representation of tunes, mostly from the Thomasson repertoire. "Bitter Creek" is the first of Benny's tunes that Dudley learned. "Panhandle Rag" finds Dudley paired with Vivian Williams in a spirited rendition. "Sally Anne" becomes a tour-de-force duet between Dudley and banjoist Ellen Marx. "Downfall of Paris" is Bennie's variant of "Mississippi Sawyer" and is simply lovely in dropped D tuning with Dudley's lovely crosspicking.

Dudley's guitar style features little improvisation with a clear bell-like tone. It's easy to understand why this album became and continues to be such an influential recording for future flatpickers. (Sing Out!)

*****

This is a CD-R reissue of an old instrumental LP from the early 70s that featured flatpicking guitarist Dudley Hill playing a collection of fiddle tunes. The tunes are played in many different instrumental settings, with fiddle, banjo, harmonica, piano, mandolin, and upright bass with Hill's clean-picking guitar style leading the way. Due to the timelessness of the material and performance style, 30 years later, it still holds its simple charm. (Dirty Linen)

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