MIKE COMPTON & NORMAN BLAKE
Taterbug Records 6451
Gallop To Georgia features two of America’s greatest stringband experts and revivalists, playing note-perfect renditions of 16 instrumental tunes from legendary Mississippi act Narmour & Smith, authors of “Carroll County Blues” and many more. The music here is raw and angular, undisturbed by modern chord progressions or concepts of strict four beats and 12-bar timing.
Mike Compton known for his passionate pursuit of Monroe-style bluegrass mandolin, delving intimately into the most minute aspects of Monroe’s technique and style. What’s lesser known is that Mississippi native Compton fell under the spell of old-time country folk and blues as a teenager working in the simmering Southern farm fields just a short drive from his house. Over the years, he’s studied and transcribed and practiced hundreds of obscure string band tunes and arrangements. But tackling the work of Narmour & Smith posed an exceptional challenge, even for him.
“Learning to play this sampling of tunes was no small feat for me, what with their crooked meters and melodic inconsistencies,” Compton notes. “I found it extremely difficult to match the subtleties in pitch and tone, the dynamics of phrases, finding substitutions for lines that work well on the fiddle, but sound puny on mandolin. I felt like I was learning how to play all over again. But it didn’t really come to life until Norman Blake entered the picture.”
Blake has long set the standard for old-time country guitar, ranging from his many solo CDs to his work as the perfect counterfoil to Tony Rice’s elegant, jazz-inspired flatpicking on their two duo CDs. Here, Blake deliberately takes a much less pronounced role and sticks exclusively to playing backup guitar. That doesn’t mean Blake doesn’t display his considerable flatpicking guitar artistry here, as he lays down compelling walking bass lines. Frugal with his notes and deliberate in their placement and tone, Blake does a truly masterful job of hewing strictly to the duo’s unique sense of timing and rhythm. It’s a subtle, subdued accompaniment that lends just the right support for Compton’s beautiful playing on tunes such as “Texas Shuffle,” “Captain George, Has Your Money Come?” and the wonderfully unique title-track.
Lyrical and melodic, filled with buoyant rhythms and clever rhythmic patterns, Gallop To Georgia captures a bygone era in American string music, now reintroduced by two of the world’s finest interpreters of the genre. A treat from start to finish, it may spur many listeners to seek out the original recordings and discover a new world of old guitar, mandolin, and fiddle music that set the stage for modern bluegrass and other contemporary styles. (www.mikecompton.net)DJM