Adam Steffey

New Primitive – 2013 (Organic/Mountain Home)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Adam Steffey

To those who follow bluegrass and country music, go to the festivals and arena shows, and pay attention to things like liner notes, Adam Steffey is a well-known quantity of long standing. He's toured and recorded with the likes of Dolly Parton and Vince Gill, spent a few years in Alison Krauss' band Union Station, and currently gigs with The Boxcars, one of the hottest bands on the bluegrass circuit. Simply put, he's among the finest mandolin players around. What you might not know about him, unless you read the liner notes for his new (mostly) instrumental solo album "New Primitive" is that he's kin to A. P. Carter and hails from the same Virginia-Tennessee borderlands as the legendary Carter Family. He grew up with and cut his musical teeth on the same Scots-Irish fiddle tunes that Bill Monroe grew up with in western Kentucky and would come to call the "ancient tones."

"New Primitive" is Steffey's return to his musical roots, the old fiddle tunes you still hear around campfires at gatherings like Galax and Clifftop, the kind of tunes you've probably heard before but maybe never knew the names - or that they had names at all.

Those names include Raleigh and Spencer, Rock The Cradle Joe, Cluck Old Hen and Big Eyed Rabbit, familiar tunes all, but among the true gems are some of the more obscure like Goodbye Girls I'm Going To Boston (known by many through the work of the late, great fiddler Art Stamper) and Squirrel Hunter. Pickers of Steffey's caliber often gravitate to the "crooked" tunes (which have uneven time signatures) because they're more challenging - and rewarding - to play, and an excellent example here is Garfield's Blackberry Blossom, said by some to have been composed by Union general (later President) James Garfield during the Civil War. Perhaps the best effort, however, is the closing track featuring Steffey by himself picking out Ways Of The World, a haunting and lovely tune.

Steffey gets a lot of mileage out of trading off licks with Zeb Snyder, one of those all-too-rare guitarists who can play fast while retaining tone and melody. Also on hand are Steffey's wife, Tina, on clawhammer banjo, Barry Bales on bass and fiddlers Eddie Bond and Samantha Snyder. The overall effect is as though you're sitting in on a living room jam session with people for whom the music has always been part of their lives - and the living room just happens to also be a recording studio.