By Joseph Scott
This is not background music. There are no passive listening experiences to be found here. When listening to Nate Leath’s new Patuxent Music release Rockville Pike your attention will be required, even compelled, as the young fiddler and a bevy of his friends take you on a tour of old time fiddle music from their perspective, with none of the rules or restrictions usually associated with old-time string band music. In other words, if it sounds good, do it.
Surprises abound. The inclusion of the cello, played expertly by Nat Smith, adds depth and texture to the sound of the record, particularly on the fiddle tune medley “Miss McCloud’s Reel/The Squirrel Hunter’s/St. Anne’s Reel”. As the cello responds to the melodies played by Canadian fiddler Kimberly Frasier and Mr. Leath, the result is simply grand. And when Nate puts down his fiddle to play tenor resophonic guitar, of all things, on the tunes “Boll Weavel” (sung and fiddled by Tatiana Hargreaves with a conviction that belies her thirteen years) and “Sitting on Top of the World,” the effect is almost menacing.
Another pleasant surprise is the singing. Too often old time simply means fiddle tunes. But no one needed to remind the participants here of the role that songs have played in the history of appalachian music. Master-of-all-trades Danny Knicely lends his voice to the standard “Wild Bill Jones,” performed here with a pleasing minor chord arrangement. Singer Maya Lerman beautifully captures the inherent wistfulness of “Moonshiner.” And Tom Mindte does Bob Wills proud with his rendition of “Sitting on Top of the World”. Nate even remembered to give us a fiddle and banjo duet with Gillian Welch’s “Nobody Knows My Name”, on which he is joined by banjoist and vocalist Sarah Jarosz for a performance that is the very sound of lonesome.