What the Reviewers Say

VRCD 354 HART and BLECH: BUILD ME A BOAT

For those who are not familiar with them, it would be easy to assume that "Hart and Blech" is a duo, but in fact this is a trio of fine old-time musicians from the Pacific Northwest. Along with banjo player Alan Hart, husband-and-wife team Kerry (fiddle) and Sheila Blech (guitar) have been much respected figures in the music for longer than the nearly twenty years they have been playing together. In particular, Kerry Blech is not only an accomplished fiddler and a walking encyclopedia of fiddle tunes and history, but has been among the best journalists of the genre for years in the pages of Old Time Herald and other publications. Between the three of them, there's enough musical talent and knowledge here to cover three discs, and they do cover a lot of ground on the 28 tunes on Build Me a Boat.

As on their earlier release, A Devil of a Row (Swing Cat 1610), there are a few well-known titles ("Wild Bill Jones," "Train 45"), but for the most part it's a pretty eclectic and unusual assortment of tunes. Those looking for yet another version of "Soldier's Joy" or "Arkansas Traveler" won't find them here. Instead, the tunes are drawn from the repertoires of folks like Dock Boggs, Joe and Odell Thompson, Clyde Troxell and Lee Triplett. While in some hands the tunes might come across as an academic exercise, almost a musical lecture, these folks do a nice job of reminding us that fiddle tunes exist because they're fun to play. (Sing Out)

*****

Thankfully there are CDs that come along every now and again that reinvigorate your faith in trudging through the mountains of marginal music. Such is Hart and Blech-squared Build Me a Boat. This Portland-based (actually, Seattle) old-time trio has mined both commercial and field recordings of traditional fiddle tunes to come up with this gem. They've gone to the source: Uncle Dave Macon, Dock Boggs, Clyde Troxell. The liner notes are a joy. They include not only how and where they found the tunes, but keys and tunings for both fiddle and banjo. The songs collected are not commonly played. What's most interesting are the variants on familiar tunes. These include "Blue Eyed Gal," which is a variation of "Fly Around"; and alternate version of "Deep Ellum Blues"; and "Old Billy Wilson," which includes part of "Little Billy Wilson." (Dirty Linen)

*****

This highly accomplished Seattle-based trio consists of the husband and wife team of fiddler (Kerry Blech) and guitarist/singer (Sheila Belch) with clawhammer banjo player (Allen Hart). They play in the traditional string band style of the 1920s and 1930s, drawing on such artists as Dock Boggs, Clyde Troxell, and Joe and Odell Thompson for both tunes and stylistic inspiration. Their second album is a joyful and virtuostic romp through the old-timey repertoire in which such familiar fare as "Wild Bill Jones" and "Walkin' in the Parlor" rubs shoulders with curiosities like the banjo showcase "Coal Creek March" and a strange but wonderful arrangement of the shape note hymn "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand" for multitracked fiddle. Just about everything on this generously-packed program is wonderful, and musicians will appreciate the extensive track-by-track notes explaining tune origins and the tunings used during recording. Highly Recommended. (All-Music Guide)

*****

A CD with 28 fiddle tunes, with only a couple of titles familiar to all but the hardcore, might appear daunting, but Sheila and Kerry Blech and Allan Hart form a combo that keeps the mix lively and the interest level high. With a budding fiddle player in the house, we've been listening to a great deal of this genre, seeking out the greats and scaring up every version of Bill Cheatham we can find. The problem that a lot of performers have is finding a way to record something that is best experienced live, (not merely heard) - without it sounding like a dry documentary. Hart & Blech's genius is giving equal time to the banjo; Instead of Kerry Blech being backed by banjo and guitar, Allen Hart is leading a clawhammer charge on half the tunes, with fiddle backing. While solidly old time in instrumentation and repertoire, there is a bluegrass sensibility about the group that ratchets up the intensity. All three are some of the most talented musicians in the Northwest, with Hart particularly distinguishing himself by playing in several styles and nimbly interpreting tunes that were intended for another instrument. But enough analysis: this is a fun CD, cheerful and quick, that has me skipping around the house and my bow-wielding nine-year-old delighted with what lies beyond "Red-Haired Boy." How can we resist "Indian Shot the Woodchuck" and "Wimbush Rag"? (Victory Review)

*****

A very generous helping of nicely played old time music by this Northwest band led by the fiddling of Kerry Blech. 28 well-chosen tunes. (County Sales Newsletter)

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