Hi, This is 3Dsound... Not long ago, Pam sent me the hyperlink to an NPR interview from last summer with the country singer Frank Fairfield. I was shocked to hear a contemporary musician playing Fiddlin' John Carson's "The old hen cackled" from 1923 and doing such a good job with it that I wanted to hear their whole album.
But that's Frank Fairfield. He takes old music and changes it up, in a way I can't quite put my finger on, and makes it engaging for a 21st century audience.
Here's what I can say: When Fairfield sings a song, he drags the beat, even as his instrumental playing pushes the song forward. The effect surges as an engine for both Fairfield's ballads and up-tempo songs and shows us how smart he is at taking 100-year-old material and making it new. Because, however much we want to say Fairfield's approach sounds like one of the "pioneering recording artists" of country and western music from the teens and 20s, in fact, Fairfield cultivates his allusions to early recordings without slavishly reproducing them. Which is what he tells us in his NPR interview, where he says, when asked if people should hear his music as being nostalgic of an early kind of playing:
Ya know, people talkin' about the past. This is all the same stuff – Right here, all the time. Nothing goes anywhere.
You know, I want to continue playing the music that people used to play before it got cast aside. And this is the most natural place to go from – this is about where things left off, and I'm just picking up where things left off, and keep playing and see what happens from there.
That's the forward-looking attitude that explains how Fairfield's self-titled debut album, from one year ago, hasn't got a drop of the mawking – but enjoyable – nostalgia we hear in many artists who love their 78 records (think of any number of old-timey bands or Leon Redbone).
Fairfield's fiddle playing, for example, might squawk like it comes from the Georgia highlands, but we are hard-pressed to identify which of the artists from the Columbia 15000-D series – which is ground-zero for the commercialization of American white rural music – who Fairfield sounds like exactly. The same goes double for Fairfield's singing, in which we hear all the nuances of intonation, casual phrasing and ways of telling a good story that we recognize from early country singers like Jimmy Rogers or Uncle Dave Macon, but it's impossible to single out just one singer who Fairfield seems to have primarily learned his tricks from.
What we've got are Fairfield's songs. The ones I like are "Nine pound hammer" (exquisitely well recorded, which is true of his whole album, but we hear it here first); "Call me a dog when I'm gone" (the torque on Fairfield's guitar pulls his shuffling, fun lyrics into the present, where his girl is wondering where'd he been so long); "The blackberry blossoms" (fiddle playing so hackneyed you might think he doesn't know what he's doing); "The dying cowboy" (high pathos, where the vocals and fiddle work together elegantly; which is also true to a lesser extent of the next song, "Old Paint"); "The train that took my girl from town" (remarkable for how Fairfield lets the song do the singing).
Soon to be cross-posted in a slightly different form at Draggin' the Line.