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Charm City Junction

Charm City Junction – 2015 (Patuxent)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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H. L. Mencken was a lifelong resident of Baltimore and has long been credited with giving that city its "Charm City" nickname. Though renowned for his acerbity and sarcasm, it's even said that it reflected genuine affection on his part for his hometown. A nice story, but many current sources in Maryland's largest city contend that the name is of much more recent origin, stemming from a civic pride PR campaign of the late 1970s, long after Mencken had passed on. Whatever the truth, the relevance here is that all four members of Charm City Junction do indeed, by virtue of birth, residence or otherwise, have ties to Baltimore. The "Junction" is their individual backgrounds in a variety of folk music styles coming together for a sound that is, well, charming.

Patrick McAvinue, the fiddler of the quartet, is a well-known and established sideman in bluegrass for the likes of Del McCoury, Marty Stuart and Michael Cleveland. His current main gig is with Audie Blaylock's band, Redline, but McAvinue is one of those all too rare fiddlers, like Nashville Bluegrass Band's Stuart Duncan, who can effortlessly step across bluegrass "boundaries" into old time, Celtic, jazz and more, a remarkably adaptable talent. Brad Kolodner, son of noted hammered dulcimer virtuoso Ken Kolodner, is steeped in the clawhammer banjo tradition, yet brings a distinctive melodic strain to his playing. Bassist Alex Lacquement, best known lately as a member of the Bumper Jacksons, is heavily jazz-influenced, yet well understands the context of the Appalachian and Celtic traditions that Charm City delves into. Still, he adds a lot more than just a "one-five" back line. That leaves Sean McComiskey, son of renowned Irish-American button accordionist Billy McComiskey, and a highly regarded player in his own right.

The result, on this self-titled debut, is an exploration and celebration of the common bond, the Scottish-Irish fiddle tunes that folk musicians on both sides of the Atlantic have drawn on for centuries, with a little bit of more contemporary fare thrown in to spice things up.

As is often the case with American "old time" releases and Celtic fare, the focus here is mostly on the tunes - only 3 of the 14 tracks feature vocals - and several will be familiar to many ears: "Train On The Island," "New River Train" and "Margaret's Waltz," which as the liner notes point out, isn't quite as old a tune as many probably assume. The other titles will not ring a bell, but will sound very familiar. This is simply the nature of the "old music" in both traditions. These four young musicians make it sound fresh and vibrant throughout.