Voyager Recordings & Publications

VRCD 359 WILLIAMS & BRAY: BLUEGRASS HOEDOWN

The subtitle of this recordings is 14 Hoedowns, 2 Waltzes, 1 Polka, 1 Jig and that pretty much describes its contents. Harley Bray was the banjoist in the influential bluegrass band The Bray Brothers and Red Cravens. Based in the Midwest they had a weekly radio program in Clinton, Illinois in the 1960s. Occasionally a young John Hartford would join the band on fiddle. Harley's wife Shera is a talented guitarist and dance caller. Mandolinist and bassist Phil and Fiddler Vivian Williams are well known northwest players. Vivian has won numerous titles for her old-time fiddling and the couples Bray and Williams have performed together for almost 20 years.

Bluegrass Hoedown is a delightful collection of classic and lesser-known tunes played at a brisk but manageable rate for dancing or listening. Along with standards such as "Old Joe Clark,"" Sugar in the Gourd," "Red Wing" and "Arkansas Traveler" we are introduced to other fine dance tunes. "Glise de Sherbrooke" is a French Canadian tune just right for American square dancers. "Tennessee Grey Eagle" was learned from Jim Herd, a fiddler transplanted from Missouri to the Northwest. "Beethoven's Favorite Waltz" was collected from a book of tunes published in New York City in the 1920s and is played here in a lovely rendition by Phil on the mandolin. Probably closest to the hearts of the players is "Sam and Elzie" collected from Harley's older brother Wilson who learned it from their father Montie Monroe Bray. It is a lively tune, certainly a highlight on this fine collection.

The test of any collection called Bluegrass Hoedown is whether the listener is encouraged to roll up the carpet and dance. All the while I was listening to this recording my right foot just wouldn't stay still. I'd say Williams and Bray have a real winner here. (Sing Out)

*****

A straightforward and pleasant recording of primarily bluegrass music, with a few surprises thrown in. The artists are Vivian [fiddle] and Phil Williams on mandolin and acoustic bass, and Harley and Shera Bray on banjo and guitar. The Williams are Puget Sound natives, who have established a reputation in the area for many years. The Brays migrated here, and began playing with the Williams during the 1980's. The playing is solid and enjoyable, but because the fiddle, banjo and mandolin rotate in taking solos, and there is little instrumental interchange between them, this is probably a better album for the dance enthusiast than for pure listening. I particularly enjoyed the solidity of Harley's banjo playing, after all the current embroidered newgrass banjo picking, it's pleasant to hear some solid Scruggs picking. Beethoven's favorite waltz was an enjoyable excursion into a 19th century tune, learned by the artists from some sheet music. (Victory Review)

*****

A very pleasant and enjoyable disc of 18 good tunes played on fiddle by Vivian Williams with quite a bit of good Scruggs-style banjo work by Harley Bray (also with guitar and bass). (County Sales)

*****

I have recently obtained CD 359 Bluegrass Hoedown. This is "Super Fine" recording. Every tune is great! If I had to pick a favorite, it would be "Sweet Bunch of Daisies." This is super fiddling by Vivian Williams. (Note from a customer.)

*****

Motivated by demand from the square dance industry, the band made its recording debut last year with an album of fiddle tunes on the Williams' Voyager label called BLUEGRASS HOEDOWN.

Recorded almost entirely live at the Williams' basement studio, with only Phil's bass and a couple of harmony fiddle tracks overdubbed, this disc applies the band's lyrical bluegrass styling to a collection of mostly familiar hoe-downs, the venerable "Jenny Lind Polka", and a surprisingly eclectic sampling of waltzes. While Phil Williams lays a firm foundation on acoustic bass, Shera Bray's solid rhythm guitar propels the band forward on the hoedowns with strategically accented backbeats. As always, Harley Bray's banjo work is crisp and clean, adding a dash of Bill Keith's scale-based melodicism to the basic Scruggs style. Even on French-Canadian and European waltzes, his graceful solos and accompaniment maintain a bluegrass focus.

In keeping with the album's square dance orientation, most of the renditions run about five minutes, and Vivian Williams' fiddling adheres fairly strictly to the melody with a bare minimum of bluegrass improvisation. "It's a dance record," Phil explains simply. "We got a really nice review in SING OUT. As a result of that, it was our fourth biggest seller last year." BLUEGRASS HOEDOWN can be ordered from the Voyager website, www.voyagerrecords.com, or by calling 206/323-1112. (Heritage Music Review)

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