Tom Paley is a veteran of the US folk scene, having been among the very first to record for the then fledgling Elektra label way back in 1953. He then became a key figure in the folk revival movement of the mid-late 1950s and beyond as a member of the New Lost City Ramblers. Now in his mid-eighties, Tom Paley has long made the UK his home from the 1960s onwards, performing at local folk venues thereafter. Indeed, son Ben was born in London, though has been influenced by folk music either side of the Atlantic and studied fiddle in North Carolina, before returning to England where he made the major discovery of Swedish fiddle music and has subsequently recorded with a host of musicians including Damian Albarn and Michael Nyman.
For this second album for specialist folk indie label Hornbeam following the 2012 release, ‘Tom Paley’s Old-Time Moonshine Reverie’, Tom this time has son Ben onside throughout and, while the latter lays down some mean fiddle, Tom concentrates on banjo duties and vocals. Add double bass, dobro and harmonica and you have a quality roots album that could have been recorded at any time in the last fifty years, with the notable caveat that the music’s influences are far wider with Scandinavian folk subtly incorporated into the whole.
The pieces are relatively short, yet still packed with virtuosity and they cook up an instrumental storm on a medley of two 1930s songs in ‘Mississippi Medley (Sullivan’s Hollow/Rufus Rastus)’ while harmonica player Rob Mason excels on ‘Done Gone’. Tom Paley’s plaintive vocals work best on numbers such as ‘Little Sadie’ with its black humour and he has an entertaining storytelling quality that shines through on ‘The devil and the farmer’s wife’. A varied line-up that oscillates between solo, duet, trio and quartet keeps the music sounding fresh and Tom sings accompanied by guitar alone on the Mississippi John Hurt composition, ‘Louis Collins’. Aiding and abetting proceedings with her own brand of Celtic folk is singer and roots DJ Cerys Matthews who makes a guest appearance on vocals and guitar on ‘This Train’ and she sounds very much at home in this environment. Ben displays his own mastery of the fiddle on the rousing opener, ‘You piney mountain’. Another quality package with a lovely gatefold sleeve crammed with information on the studio dates and including extensive liner notes from journalist Robin Denselow. This is an authentic slice of American folk, yet one that simultaneously pays homage to the very real influence of the European folk tradition.