Reviews

Jayme StoneJayme Stone
Album: Jayme Stone's Lomax Project
Label: Borealis
Tracks: 19
Website: http://jaymestone.com

Last time we heard from Canadian banjo innovator and musical instigator Jayme was six years ago, with his captivating world-roots album Africa To Appalachia, on which he collaborated with Marisa Sissoko. This latest project is an equally well-focused exercise, on which Jayme humbly casts the collaborative net even wider and trawls in fifteen of North America's most distinctive and creative roots musicians. The objective was to revive, recycle and re-imagine - basically to renew - songs originally collected by folklorist and field recording pioneer Alan Lomax, who captured "extraordinary, everyday folks making homemade, handmade music" in recordings he made (with a couple of exceptions) during the post-war years; Jayme's intention was to release the album to coincide with the centenary of Lomax's birth. And this is achieved stylishly by Jayme and his crew, both emulating and reviving the spirit of those original recordings with an uncluttered down-home feel that's suitably intimate for the material yet retains the essential exuberance of both performance and discovery.

The repertoire ranges over songs and tunes and although the vast majority of the selections inhabit the former category at least some of the disc's high points come with the tunes, and infrequently-heard ones at that (check out Julie And Joe, a great rare-breed variant of Old Joe Clark, and Old Christmas - both tracks featuring the twin fiddles of Bruce Molsky and Brittany Haas). Of course, unreservedly brilliant musicianly chops are on permanent display during the vocal numbers too, from the likes of those mentioned above, Tim O'Brien, Eli West, Greg Garrison, Jayme Stone and Julian Lage, but there's no abuse of virtuosity and the predominant vibe is that of easy collaboration much in the spirit of Transatlantic Sessions. The most extensive demonstration of the virtue of skilled arrangement comes with a six-minute reading of Shenandoah that effortlessly survives its generously episodic treatment.

Even so, the most vibrant of those vocal tracks are those which feature a distinct minimum (or no) instrumentation. There's the invigorating Prayer Wheel, which brings various lead singers in and out in turn; The Devil's Nine Questions, done to a 9/8 rhythm pattern with only body percussion for accompaniment; the stark prison song Now Your Man Done Gone, performed by Bruce with Margaret Glaspy (whose voice takes the lead on several more items). Other singers lending their voices to the record include Mollie O'Brien, Moira Smiley, Martin Gilmore and John Magnie, and there's also a one-off cameo from Drew Gonsalves (the calypso Bury Boula For Me).

The whole disc is greatly enjoyable, and each selection is revived with imagination and flair while adhering to the spirit of both the original recordings themselves and of the enterprise of Lomax's activities. And the package is adorned with what I can only describe as the most handsome of booklets (52 pages of extensive notes and photos). So it's congratulations all round.

David Kidman