What The Reviewers Say

VRCD 346, VRCS 346

JEFF ANDERSON: FIDDLING IN THE FAMILY TRADITION

As this disc of dance fiddle tunes demonstrates, you don't have to be from eastern Kentucky or southern Missouri to have a family musical tradition behind you. Such is the case with Washington State's Jeff Anderson, who learned his Norwegian fiddling from his North Dakotan grandfathers by observing them as a child, then later hearing their music on homemade 78s. The self-taught Anderson exhibits a gentle touch, emitting sweet, earthy tones as he bows in the Hardanger style mostly on regular violin and a little on the counterpart Hardanger fiddle. (Interestingly, he learned the bowing style solely by studying a photo of his grandfather.) No doubt these hokum-less tunes are played as they would have been a century ago. Anderson's authenticity rings volumes. (Dirty Linen)

*****

The wave of Scandinavian immigrants, (Norwegian and Swedish, in particular) that settled across the Upper Midwest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries left an indelible imprint on American culture and music. Jeff Anderson's grandparents were a part of that migration, arriving in North Dakota (eventually settling in Waterville, WA) from Norway at the turn of the last century, and his fiddling is evidence of that cultural imprint. Anderson, who has been playing for more than 30 years, was born into a world surrounded by music. Both of his grandfathers and his father were fiddlers who often played around the house, while his mother accompanied them on Hawaiian guitar. Young Jeff, naturally, followed in their footsteps. He has been playing since his teens, and continues to play many of the Norwegian and Scandinavian tunes he first heard at home as a child.

As one would expect, Anderson as also picked up a good number of tunes from non-Scandinavian sources at fiddlers gatherings, recordings, and TV over the years. Included on this CD in the latter category are some well-known and widespread tunes in the Anglo-American tradition, such as "Wake Up Susan," "Miss McLeod's Reel," and "Sailor's Hornpipe." These pieces are played at a very relaxed, but very danceable, pace. The same is true for the couple of New England tunes included here, "Old French," and "Petronella." The influence of Canadian fiddling is felt here, too, through the inclusion of tunes such as "Little Burnt Potato," and a couple of Scottish tunes often played in Canada, "Fiddlers to the Fore" and "The Iron Man." All of the aforementioned tunes are played well and are very enjoyable, but it is on the Scandinavian tunes that make up the remainder of this CD, that Anderson really shines.

Scandinavian-American instrumental folk music tends to be comprised of various types of tunes that have corresponding couple dances, such as waltzes, schottisches, and mazurkas, with waltzes being especially popular among musicians and dancers in the US. Accordingly, except for "Reinlander Etter Ringnessen" (a reinlander is a Norwegian dance) and "Gardebylaten" (a Scandinavian walking tune), the Scandinavian tunes Anderson plays here are waltzes. All have very distinct and appealing melodies and are played at a good clip, in other words, a tempo that is definitely meant for dancing. The waltzes also best display the intricacies of Anderson's fiddling, especially his bowing, which is very precise and rhythmic, and unmistakably "Norwegian" sounding (for want of a better description).

These Scandinavian pieces come from a variety of sources. Anderson composed "The Little Norwegian Boy's Fiddle Waltz." The other pieces were passed down to Anderson through his family (most notably his grandfather, Carl Melcher), learned from records, or picked up at fiddlers gatherings. Quite a few of the tunes included here have been popular for generations and will be familiar to those acquainted with Scandinavian old-time music. At least some of them were issued on 78-rpm recordings in the early 20th century and sold very well at the time. A quick check in Dick Spottswood's Ethnic Music on Records confirms that "From Frisco to Cape Cod," "Midsommer Vals", "Saturday Waltz," "Solvik's Minnen," and "Styrman's Vals" all appeared on early 78s, though in those days they were more likely to be played on an accordion than a fiddle. Nonetheless, these early recordings probably played no small part in popularizing those tunes and others, thus helping to ensure that musicians like Jeff Anderson would play them in the future.

Anderson is accompanied on this album by a group of Seattle's finest - Stuart Williams on guitar, Phil Williams on mandolin and tenor banjo, Nancy Katz on bass, Sandy Bradley on piano, and his mother Ruby Anderson on dobro - and the resulting sound is that of an authentic Scandinavian-American old-time dance band. Anderson wrote the liner notes, which include a brief and affectionate family history, and sources for all the tunes. Highly recommended. (The Old Time Herald)

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