Sign up for newsletter

Molsky's Mountain Drifters

Molsky's Mountain Drifters – 2016 (Tree Frog Music)

Reviewed by John Lupton

Find it on Amazon
Subscribe to Country CD Reviews CD Reviews

CDs by Molsky's Mountain Drifters

The late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed a resurgence of interest in what has since come to be known as "old time" music, as a wave of young musicians sought out alternatives to what they viewed as the overly commercialized rock and folk music scenes, including the electrified brand of folk by artists like Bob Dylan. Among this new wave were many who, like Bronx-born and raised Bruce Molsky, were not "of the tradition" they were immersing themselves in, yet eagerly absorbed the music not only from the scratchy old 78 rpm records that were still around, but also from many of the artists still living who had made those same "hillbilly" records (a term of the time that was used derisively by many, but often as a sort of "badge of honor" by those playing the music).

In Molsky's case, it was iconic Appalachian musicians like Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham who set him on a road that eventually brought him renown as among the finest fiddle and banjo talents of that new generation. Now, as he enters the "elder statesman" phase of his career, he's passing the torch with the formation of his Mountain Drifters, a pair of youngsters (Allison de Groot, banjo and Stash Wyslouch, guitar) half his age who represent a new generation coming into the music to ensure that "old time" will continue to get older.

For many, the term "old time" means little more than sitting around playing Appalachian fiddle and banjo tunes for hours on end (and as an old joke has it, it may end up being only one tune), but as Molsky and his crew amply demonstrate, the sources of the music come from far beyond the mountain regions of Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. The strongest root of the tradition goes back to the Scottish-Irish music brought over by the earliest settlers, and "The Flowers of Edinburgh" is a classic example of a tune that remains popular on both sides of the water. "The Dreary Black Hills," an a cappella duet between Molsky and Wyslouch, highlights the tradition of unaccompanied ballads (in this case, with a cowboy flavor), and Molsky's own "Isambard's Waltz" shows that a good tune doesn't have to be a century old or more to resonate. Though some in this "Hot New Country" era may still question whether "old time" music like this qualifies as country music at all, others would respond that this is actually the original country music.

Perhaps the best example of this timeless and boundless appeal, though, is "Between the Wars," a tale (with striking trio harmony) of working class struggle. Though written by a modern-day Englishman Billy Bragg in the context of his own tradition, it could just as easily apply to the Kentucky coal fields or the sweatshops of Manhattan. Besides their sheer musical excellence, Molsky and his Mountain Drifters show why so many people - young and old - continue to love and play old time music.