10 String Symphony
Weight of the World
4 stars (out of 5)
By Aaron Keith Harris
From their moniker, one would be excused for thinking Nashville duo 10 String Symphony—Rachel Baiman and Christian Sedelmyer—are a pair of banjo pickers. Instead, they are two singing five-string fiddlers* who root their excellent songwriting, cover material choices, and vocal approach with a deep, sometimes drone-heavy sound that’s markedly different from acts they otherwise have kinship, like the two–person band named Gillian Welch, or the Be Good Tanyas.
Attentive bluegrass music fans will be familiar with the five-string fiddle from the work of Bobby Hicks, who first showcased one in 1963. (Watch and hear Hicks play Kenny Baker and Bill Monroe’s “Road to Columbus” on the five-string fiddle.) Adding a C string on the lower end, it allows fiddlers to grab some of the tones of a viola—used here to give Baiman compositions like “Weight of the World” and “I’m Not Lonesome” a brooding edge and to make “Oscar’s Lament” a rich piece of rustic noir.
The duo’s understated lead and harmony vocals are ideal for Baiman’s songwriting style, and for their one co-write—the bittersweet “Anna Jane”—and a revelatory take on Dylan’s “Mama, You Been on My Mind.” The traditional “Black-Eyed Suzie” and John Hartford’s “On Christmas Eve” lighten the mood a bit, without pulling us too far from the comforting melancholy that makes this such a good listen.
*From 10 String Symphony’s publicist in response to my question about their instruments:
Both Rachel and Christian play five-string fiddles. In contrast to a traditional four-string violin, these include the addition of a low C string—sort of like a violin and a viola combined. The size of the instrument is also often slightly expanded from a traditional blueprint to allow all the strings to resonate properly. In practical terms, this addition allows a band that’s so stripped down in size greater utility in terms of what the instruments can harmonically accomplish. Rachel’s fiddle is made by John Silakowski, a luthier based in Indiana; Christian’s fiddle is made by Barry Dudley, who works out of Georgia.