MagazineDecember 2005Playlist: Mark Newton Band, Pa's Fiddle Band Project

Playlist: Mark Newton Band, Pa’s Fiddle Band Project

Mark Newton Band

“Hillbilly Hemingway”

The Blue Ridge-based Rebel Records catalog is ripe with Mark Newton releases. In the mid-80’s, Newton released albums on Rebel with his first band, the short-lived but widely-popular Virginia Squires. He produced 2000’s “Follow Me Back to the Fold,” a tribute to the women of bluegrass that won Newton the 2001 IMBA Recorded Event of the Year Award, and he is all over Rebel compilations. His most recent Rebel release, “Hillbilly Hemingway,” is certainly influenced by his 2004 move from Fredericksburg, Va., to Nashville; the album represents a more countrified effort than his previous bluegrass releases. While an adventure from his bluegrass roots, Newton’s foray into country music works. His rich tenor wraps nicely around songs about hometowns and homefolks, hard times and tragic love, white lightnin’ and heavenly redemption. Guest appearances by Blue Highway’s Rob Ickes on dobro, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, and Alecia Nugent on background vocals round out the sound on “Hillbilly Hemingway,” adding nicely to its down home country charm.

Pa’s Fiddle Band Project

“Music from Little House on the Prairie”

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s eight-book Little House on the Prairie series is a landmark in American literary history. For three quarters of a century, the westward travels of the Ingalls family have captivated readers. While capturing what is considered the quintessential family saga, Wilder has also provided an anthology of 19th century American music. Central to the story of the Wilder family is the fiddling of Laura’s pa, Charles. Pa often broke out his cherished fiddle to saw off folk tunes, hymns, Christmas songs, and even Osage war dances. No less than 126 references to American folk music are made in Wilder’s books, a fact not lost on Vanderbilt University professor Dale Cockrell. Cockrell has begun an ambitious project to record the songs referenced by Wilder in her work. The project will encompass nine discs, with the first being 2005’s “Happy Land: A Musical Tribute to Laura Ingalls Wilder,” a recording that was recently honored with a place on the National Endowment for the Humanities We the People Shelf, an accolade normally reserved for written works. The second disc in the series, “The Arkansas Traveler: Music from Little House on the Prairie,” was recently released to critical acclaim. Revisted on the disc are the 18 tunes referred to by Wilder in the third, and most popular, book in her series. Co-produced by Cockrell and mandolinist Butch Baldassari, the disc breathes new life into hallmarks of American musical history. The spirit of classics like “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” “Old Dan Tucker,” “Dixie’s Land,” and “The Arkansas Traveler” are renewed by, among others, John Cowan, Judith Edelman, Bob Carlin, and Doc Wiseman. Cockrell’s vision, and the stunning work of these musicians, will go far in providing the soundtrack for a beloved literary masterpiece.

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