What the Reviewers Say

VRCD 347 VIVIAN and PHIL WILLIAMS: LIVE!

Culled from various performances around Washington State, Live! demonstrates the couple's repertoire is as long as the trail that inspires them. Many of the 25 selections are lively, spirited fiddle tunes graced by Vivian's masterful playing and supported by Phil's deft accompaniment on guitar. there are Canadian fiddle tunes ("Lightning hornpipe/Earl Mitton's Breakdown"), Irish jigs ("Smash the Window"), Southern Hoedowns ("Yellow Barber"), even another Oregon Trail staple, "Cripple Creek," played by Phil on gut-strung fretless banjo. "Fiddle Fingers Schottische" and the aforementioned "Lightning Hornpipe" are among the disc's most impressive cuts. "Shannon Waltz," a popular tune in Canada and the States, is breathtaking, while Phil's flatpicking on "Hard Luck Blues" is indeed wicked. Additionally, Phil plays various mandolin tunes that were either an adaption of Bill Monroe-Doc Watson jam-session tunes ("Phil's Blues) or reminiscent of Monroe's style, such as "Back Roads of Time." Although it's a live recording, rarely is there time spent on the live ambiance. Here, it's just he music that matters with the Williamses. Highly recommended. (Dan Willging, Dirty Linen)

*****
Vivian and Phil Williams are the owners of Voyager, a label that specializes in fiddle music. They have documented a great deal of music over the years and their label features many prominent names, usually in relaxed circumstances so we hear the fiddlers as they really sounded, not as an expensive studio could enhance their performance.

The performances here are taken from live shows in and around their Washington State home. They feature Vivian on fiddle (she was the 1999 National Champ) and guitar, and Phil on mandolin, guitar and frailed banjo. They both sing with Phil taking the lion's share of vocal. Vivian sings a very witty "Green Tomato Blues." On this cut along with all the others she fiddles on, her playing is wonderful. She plays a wide range of tunes from blues and bluegrass to very Northern tunes with equal ease.

This is a highly entertaining look into the range a string duet can do and make work for more than just dancing. At times you can hear dancers or an audience response that adds to the warm down-home flavor of this project. This CD is recommended to all who are not tied to strictly one style. (Fiddler Magazine)

*****

The Pacific Northwest has a rich tradition of fiddle and dance tunes. The musical traditions brought to the area by pioneers included Appalachian, Celtic, and Scandinavian, which simmered in the musical melting pot that is old-time music. New styles developed and were incorporated, most notably Northwestern style fiddle. As time and technology moved forward, the acoustic world made way for the electric one and much of that great, history-laden old-time music was in danger of being lost. That will never be the case since Vivian and Phil Williams make it their goal to preserve the lush musical heritage of the area.

The Williams are multi-talented musicians, who weave the history of the area into their musicianship, be it in studio or a live performance.

The couple has documented and performed Northwest traditional music since their teens in the 1950s. They have been instrumental in preserving the musical traditions of the Northwest by helping found the Seattle Folklore Society, Northwest Folklife, and the Washington Old Time Fiddlers Association, and by playing bluegrass or old-time music at festivals or square dances. They also own and operate Voyager Recordings & Publications, which has released recordings of more than 85 fiddlers and developed the most extensive recorded archive of Northwest fiddle and old-time music in the country.

Musically speaking, Vivian and Phil Williams are superb talents. Vivian is a noted fiddler and the 1999 National Senior Old-Time Fiddling Champion (Weiser, ID). Furthermore, she is a prolific and talented composer. Phil plays "just about anything with strings on it." For the three recordings, he ably handles guitar, mandolin, banjo and bass, providing rhythm to Vivian's fiddle. Phil also repairs and makes stringed instruments, is a recording engineer, and a consultant to the Smithsonian on traditional music in the region. Together, they are a well-versed, considerable talent.

Much of the success of their music is built upon their understanding of the traditions of the Pacific Northwest. To their familiarity with the old-time traditions of the Oregon Trail, the Williams add their passionate performances and deft sense of timing. Top it all off with sound engineering by Phil Williams and the result is a series of well-developed musical narratives and successful examples of the style.

Each album offers a different perspective of the music of their region. The best example of an "at the dance" feel would be the aptly titled Live!, which captures the energy of their live performance. Culled from Malo Grange (near Republic, WA) in October 1995, Fiddler's Inn in Seattle in June 1995, and Echo Valley Ski Lodge (near Chelan, WA) in April 1998, the album features 19 tunes. The diversity of style is telling - jigs, waltzes, rags, blues tunes, fiddle tunes, mandolin tunes, traditional songs and originals, four by Vivian and one by Phil. The album is an example of what fun these two musicians bring to their performances.

Dance Music of the Oregon Trail is as much a narrative of the musical settling of the Northwest as it is a collection of America's most familiar tunes. The liner notes set the tone with the prosaic explanations of the early pioneers who trekked the Oregon Trail. The album ties together elements of minstrel tunes, British Isles, country dance tunes, and polka.

The final offering, Waltzes, is the gem of the three. Listed as a 'solo' effort by Vivian Williams, Phil provides rhythm by way of guitar and bass throughout the work. By focusing on some of Vivian's favorite waltzes, a theme that truly triumphs, fiddler Williams offers a well-chosen sampling of the delicate genre as well as her subtle mastery of both style and instrument. The sixteen-song album includes traditional pieces alongside three originals.

Straightforward, attractive artwork is the standard for all three CDs. The liner notes differ in extent of detail from album to album, though each contains either biographical details, fiddle tunings, influences, or impetus for choosing the piece. Particularly impressive is the inclusion of suggested reading on Dance Music on the Oregon Trail.

Vivian and Phil Williams have taken their love relationship with the music of the Oregon Trail and forged works that mesh masterful musicianship, thorough engineering, and a firm sense of history. Kristin Garau - The Old-Time Herald

*****

The husband-and-wife team of fiddler Vivian Williams and her husband Phil has been playing together around the Pacific Northwest since they were married in 1959; the material on this live disc is culled from three performances recorded in 1995 and 1998. Perhaps because it's at such a long remove from the centers of North American fiddle music in the southern Appalachians, Texas, Quebec, and Nova Scotia, the Northwestern fiddle style is highly eclectic and draws on all of those traditions fairly equally. Thus the Williams' concert repertoire includes such disparate tunes as "Ragtime Annie," "Mason's Apron," "Smash the Windows," and "Cripple Creek," as well as several fine originals. Among the latter, one of the most charming is Vivian Williams' humorous "Green Tomato Blues" (in which she bemoans the relative positions of the sun, her neighbor's tree, and her garden). Phil breaks out a gut-strung fretless banjo for a rollicking rendition of "Cripple Creek," and sings a great old Carter Family song called "Jealous Hearted Me." The sound quality isn't always great, but the playing is. Highly recommended. (Rick Anderson, All Music Guide)

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