BANJO NEWSLETTER SEPT. 2005
Grey Cat on the Tennessee Farm by Peter Feldmann and The Pea Patch
By Bill Dillof, firstname.lastname@example.org
In my recent review of the Bear Family's "Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy"the Uncle Dave Macon box setin these pages (April, 2005), I strongly recommended Macon's vast recorded repertoire as a virtually untapped source of wonderful material not only for enthusiasts of old-time music, but for the bluegrass set as well. Now, with the release of "Grey Cat on the Tennessee Farm," by Peter Feldmann and The Pea Patch Quintet (Hen Cackle HC-504), I feel vindicated enough to say, more with glee than smugness (but that, too), "See? I told you so."
I became familiar with Feldmann as one of the more informed posters on the Old-Time Music Newsgroup, but he has been active in the West Coast bluegrass scene since the 1960s as a radio show producer, festival and music club founder, manger of Sonyatone Records and especially as a performing bluegrass musician. He is also rather well connected, as this effort attests, having enlisted the enthusiastic support of Dan Crary (guitar), Bill Bryson (bass), Wayne Shrubsall (5-string), Dennis Caplinger (5-string and guitar-banjo) and Byron Berline, one of my personally favorite fiddlersin any genrefor the past thirty years. Feldmann himself plays solid mandolin on the recording and handles the lead vocals with aplomb in a warm, throaty, comfortable baritone; without attempting to imitate Macon, he manges to target the animus of the material, much the way Macon himself did, making each number his own. The Pea Patch Quintet joins right in with infectious elan, providing rich harmonies and laying down inventive, colorful instrumental lines over the fresh vehicle of the Macon-derived songs.
Of the CD's nineteen cuts, five are brief narrations (yes, just like those on many of Uncle Dave's recordings); six are based on recordings of Macon's own string band, the Fruit Jar Drinkers; five are derived from Macon's solo material; one comes from a Macon duet with Sam McGee; and two are old-time fiddle tunes. The arrangements are of the traditional bluegrass type, with the band taking instrumental breaks in turn. The most successful efforts are those, such as Old Plank Road and Sail Away Ladies, in which the band adheres to unadulterated, if somewhat laid-back (appropriately, I might add), bluegrass; less successful (but still very good) are two numbers Rabbit In the Pea Patch and the title track, in which the band seems to mix their genres, approximating an oldtime band with some bluegrass musicians playing along. On several cuts Feldman honors the Macon and McGee legacy with twin banjos, culminating with Johnny Gray, my own favorite number, in which the twin banjos stand alone as a duet. The transition of this material to a bluegrass setting feels natural and rightthese are robust songs that serve with ease as vehicles for the bluegrass treatment.
I have often noted how Macon seems to inspire the most interest among my bluegrass acquaintances and among oldtime musicians who can remember when there did not seem to be such a cultural divide between the two disciplines.
This well-produced album only reinforces that view. I strongly recommend Feldmann's loving and creative tribute to Macon - to both old-time music enthusiasts and bluegrassers; with a minimum of esthetic compromise, it manages to respect both traditions, and makes for excellent listening as well. I have no doubt that, were he to hear "Grey Cat" himself. Uncle Dave would shuffle a little dance and shout, "Hot dog!"
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