What the Reviewers Say

VRCD 351 VIVIAN WILLIAMS: WALTZES

No mystery as to what's on this recording: 16 waltzes played by Northwest fiddler Vivian Williams. As both fiddler and record producer, Williams is a major proponent of the fiddling of the Northwest, a blend of styles influenced a bit by Southerners but more by Scandinavians drifting west across the Plains. She describes Northwestern waltzes as "slow, mournful, bluesy, plaintive, unadorned," and all these terms describe her playing here, along with "excellent." Accompanied only by Phil Williams on guitar and bass, Williams' fiddling on Waltzes is meticulously recorded and produced. The tunes are great as well, many coming via Joe Pancerzewski and four from the pen of Williams herself. Fans of beautiful waltzes, or fiddlers looking for new waltzes, would do well to take a listen. Dirty Linen

*****

As the husband and a father of a fiddler, I know first hand of the struggle to find new and exciting waltzes. Nothing showcases a fiddler's abilities better than a well-played waltz. Many don't even attempt more than just a couple to use at the close of a dance evening.

Vivian Williams, fiddler extraordinaire of the Northwest, has created a collection of waltz masterpieces. Selections come from various sources including Canada, Scandinavia and her home in the Pacific Northwest.

One of my favorites here is "Whistler's Waltz" with its glorious low register A part. Another is Vivian's bouncy "Stonetown Waltz" - the weaving of the dancers is easy to imagine. I also found "Emma," a tune from Finland, wonderfully dark and mysterious. Initially, the listener may imagine a certain sameness to a collection of waltzes and at first hearing they may be right, for, of course, all the rhythm is in 3/4 time and the accompaniment is the guitar of her husband Phil. But perhaps this collection is not just for any listener. As Vivian writes in the notes these are 16 of her favorite waltzes. She writes of her enjoyment watching the dancers glide across the floor during an evening and the enjoyment they receive from a well-played waltz. Maybe this is a recording for dancers? Why not roll up the carpet and give your sweetie a spin. I'm sure Vivian would be pleased! Sing Out

*****

Fiddler and composer Vivian also has just released an amazing fiddle CD of "Waltzes" backed with just Phil's guitar and bass. The tunes include her very wonderful originals like "Fairweather Waltz," as well as waltzes by other fiddlers like Townsend's "Sir John MacDonald" (Vivian's favorite), deJarlis and Pancerzewski. Also she includes waltzes from Canada and Scandinavia where the Finnish waltz "Emma" is particularly fine. Major collection and insight into one of this country's finest traditional fiddlers. She has won over 100 contests and awards. A Northwest gem. Festivals Directory Northwest

*****

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

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