What The Reviewers Say

VRCD 323, VRCS 323 VIVIAN WILLIAMS: FIDDLER

Recommended. (Disc Collector)

*****

Vivian Williams is a highly competent fiddler. Listen to her playing of the waltzes and schottishes and I am sure you will agree. (Northern Junket)

*****

Vivian Williams is a splendid Northwest fiddler.... It's a delightfully personal album which escapes the sameness of too many fiddle albums by emphasizing her many fiddle styles, by alternating a bluegrass backing with the more Canadian piano accompaniment, by the remarkable variety of her tunes, and finally by Vivian's first rate fiddling on each of the twenty tunes. (Victory Review)

*****

Vivian Williams is a fiddler. No doubt about that. The variety of tunes and styles demonstrate her skills superbly. Without doubt she is one of the best fiddlers in the country today.

For fans of fiddle music, this is a must album. (Walnut Valley Occasional)

*****

Williams' strength is in her sensitive treatment of the rural ethnic dance tunes, which show her technical abilities favorably. On "Fiddler" this type of selection predominates, including a schottische, a polka and several waltzes. All are played with ability and taste. (Cotton Patch Rag)

*****

Seattle's own pride and joy, Vivian Williams, has been fiddling since the '60's. This is a reissue of the late '70s LP she recorded with the bluegrass band Tall Timber, with an additional 4 selections, containing 23 tunes total. Vivian is that rare musician who can play bluegrass fiddle, Western Canadian style, and old time and maintain a loyal following in each genre. .... Fiddle enthusiasts [will enjoy] her speedy breakdowns ("Katy Hill" for example), luscious waltzes ("Red Fox") or complex bowing ("Sunflower Schottische"). But even with all the great traditional tunes here, what really knocked my socks off was Vivian's playing of one of her own compositions, the terrific "Burnt River." Immensely enjoyable. (Victory Review)

*****

Nowhere on Williams' current discography will you find the scorching live version of "Fire on the Mountain," which opens the compact disc, or three other unreleased gems that make this a must-have for even the most loyal of Williams fans. Williams is one of the few fiddlers who is truly a master of both old-time and bluegrass styles, slipping seamlessly between the two idioms. (Dirty Linen)

*****

One of the best fiddlers in the Seattle area, Vivian Williams has been performing for more than 30 years. She won the Smithsonian Fiddle Contest in 1973 with an original tune, "Burnt River," and she has also produced recordings by more than 80 other fiddlers. This recording, most of which was previously released on LP, presents a wide range of fiddle tunes, all of them well-played. The band accompanying her on most of these 23 tracks, which include "Burnt River," is Tall Timber. The accompaniment, particularly Barney Munger's banjo work, is quite good, resulting in a lively, varied and enjoyable collection. (Sing Out)

*****

Voyager Recordings, founded by Phil and Vivian Williams in 1967, has been "an independent recording and publishing company that features the best in old time music, primarily fiddle music, from the Pacific Northwest and throughout North America" (from Voyager website). They took their recording equipment into the field and recorded their music at jam sessions and fiddle contests, resulting in recordings of some of the better, more authentic fiddling this reviewer has stumbled upon in the last few years.

The Pacific Northwest fiddle tradition comes from the dance fiddle brought to the area with the covered wagon. The area is a jumble of styles, from Irish and Scottish influences to Scandinavian roots, with not a great deal of mixing.

Joe Pancerzewski seems to have been the "old man" of Northwest fiddling. Born in 1905, he learned to play at an early age, but stopped when he became a railroad engineer in 1939. It was only after he retired in 1970 that he started playing once again and began winning local fiddle contests. "During his long career, Joe absorbed tunes and techniques from every fiddler and violinist he heard, drawing from such varied styles as traditional North Dakota dance tunes, Western Canada, early jazz, classical, bluegrass, and Texas contest fiddling." Legendary Northwest Fiddler was assembled from three previous recordings by Joe and is full of fire, with Joe tearing into such tunes as "Turkey in the Cottonwoods" and "Tulsa." He is joined here by Vivian and Phil Williams, and Dick Marvin on guitar. His style is alternately energetic and lyrical, with a tasteful use of ornamentation, and this compilation shows the various sides of Joe's artistry.

Vivian Williams had Joe Pancerzewski as a mentor. Her CD, Fiddler, has many elements in common with the preceding one: there is the lyricism and energy of her mentor, mixed with a more pronounced use of ornamentation. She also makes more use of double stops. The Scandinavian influence in the Pacific Northwest can heard in tunes like "Little Burnt Potato" and "Brandon Waltz" both in the tunes and in Williams' straightforward presentation of them. She also likes to show off from time to time and her technique comes through in pieces like "Fire on the Mountain" and "Katy Hill" giving the listener a real sense of a hoedown. This CD is a real gem. (Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Bulletin)

*****

Let's dance! That is what has been coming to mind ever since first putting on Vivian Williams' aptly title CD, Fiddler. Williams, who counts Joe Pancerzewski, Bill Mitchell, Grant Lamb, and Benny Thomasson among her principal mentors, combines an extremely danceable bow arm with a beautiful left hand. A fixture on the Northwest music and dance scene since the early 1960s, she has played over the years with The Turkey Pluckers, Tall Timber, and, since 1985, the bluegrass band Williams & Bray. Williams also is a composer of fiddle tunes and publisher of the Brand New Old Time Fiddle Tunes books presenting fiddle tunes written by contemporary fiddlers. Her "Burnt River," which appears on this CD, was selected as the best original fiddle tune at the Smithsonian Fiddle Contest in 1973, which she won. She also has co-produced more the 30 recordings featuring the playing of more than 80 fiddlers.

Nineteen of the cuts were released on LP; also included are four selection previously unreleased, two of them from live performances. Favorites of mine on the CD include "Rocky Mountain Goat," learned from Missourian Pete McMahan at a jam session the 1960s; "Fortune," from Otis Burris; "Sunflower Schottische," from one of the Howe fiddle tune collections published in the 1800s; "Martha Campbell" from Buddy Thomas; a wonderful DDAD version of "Cluck Old Hen" from Howdy Forrester; and all of the waltzes! Williams' waltz fiddling is exquisite and she shines on "Brandon Waltz," "Shannon Waltz," "Red Fox Waltz," "Black Velvet Waltz," "Over the Waves," and "Country Waltz," a piece learned from the Manitoba fiddler Grant Lamb. Aside from being beautiful, "Country Waltz" caught my attention as it is also played by the great Harnett County, NC, fiddler Lauchlin Shaw.

I can recommend this CD as an extremely well-played and varied program. (The Old Time Herald)

*****

In 1978, when this album was originally recorded and released on LP, Vivian Williams was already a veteran on the Pacific Northwest's traditional music scene; she had been winning contests and playing dances in the region since 1960. She was also already an acclaimed composer, having won the prize for Best Original Fiddle Tune at the Smithsonian Fiddle Contest in 1973. So it should come as no surprise that these live and studio recordings, though almost 20 years old when reissued on CD, should exhibit maturity and technique that are fully developed. Williams' mastery of multiple genres is in full evidence as well: she plays confidently in a bluegrass vein on "Done Gone" and her own "Burnt River," then shifts effortlessly to more Western-influenced waltzes and stately Canadian tunes with piano accompaniment. Particularly nice are the fiddle and banjo duet numbers, which include exhilarating renditions of the standards "Katy Hill" and "Old Joe Clark." This CD reissue includes four previously unreleased bonus tracks. Strongly recommended. (Rick Anderson, All Music)

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