Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project
5 stars (out of 5)
By Aaron Keith Harris
Canadian banjo player Jayme Stone continues his run of intriguingly diverse projects with this 19-track disc celebrating the centenary of seminal folk song collector Alan Lomax.
Stone has done a fine job picking tunes from Lomax’s stockpile, but an even better job picking talent to present those tunes in several different styles, including:
- Brittany Haas and Bruce Molsky with two entrancing fiddle duets, “Julie and Joe” and “Old Christmas.”
- Stone and Haas with “Hog Went Through the Fence, Yoke and All,” which, in spite of it’s rustic title is an inventive and nuanced fiddle & banjo conversation.
- “Before This Time Another Year,” “Sheep, Sheep Don’tcha Know the Road,” and “Prayer Wheel,” all gospel septets in the Sea Island style, with Tim O’Brien’s inimitable voice the most recognizable element.
- O’Brien on two duets: with Moira Smiley on the quaint romantic folk of “T-I-M-O-T-H-Y” and with Margaret Glaspy on the sad cowboy song “Goodbye Old Paint.”
- Eli West setting Lead Belly’s a profane farm work holler “Whoa, Back, Buck” in a sumptuous guitar and fiddle (Haas) arrangement.
There’s also a prison song, a calypso murder ballad, and a nearly six hundred-year-old English ballad that was captured by a ballad hunter from a Virginia sawmill cook and is here sung by a septet with no accompaniment save body percussion set to a 9/8 folk rhythm originating somewhere in the Balkans. (To fully enjoy this album, I strongly recommend buying the CD, attractively packaged with detailed liner notes of these recordings, and the ones they’re referring to.)
Among all these great musicians and singers, Stone’s best choice is clearly Margaret Glaspy, whose voice recalls Abigail Washburn and Frazey Ford, among others. The tracks on which she sings lead—including “Lazy John,” “I Want to Hear Somebody Pray,” “Maids When You’re Young,” and “Lambs on the Green Hills”—are impeccably arranged and played by Stone and company, but Glaspy turns them into the best acoustic tracks I’ve heard from anyone this year. Her singing is strong and magical while conveying the illusion of brokenness—not unlike some work from Neil Young, or Bjork; she turns well used standards like “What is the Soul of a Man?” and “Shenandoah” (both of which happen to be particular favorites of mine) into the stuff of transcendent meditations on the permanence of great music. We should all look forward to hearing more from this truly great singer.