Tuesday, June 15, 2010

270 Haystack Rd. reviewed by Mark Thompson

270 Haystack Rd.
Benton Flippen & The Smokey Valley Boys
Music Maker Recordings
20 tracks/77:42

There are a number of musicians, most notably the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who are renewing and revitalizing interest in dyed-in-the-wool, old-time string band music. Benton Flippen is an eighty-nine year-old fiddler with over six decades of experience. His music harkens back to time when music was played for dancers, with a strong rhythm the key musical element over instrumental prowess. Flippen’s earthy style is soothing one minute, hard-driving and raw the next moment. There is no doubt that his fiddle playing has remained unchanged since the early days of his career.

His backing band, the Smokey Valley Boys, is comprised of Andy Edmonds on guitar, banjo and vocal, Frank Bode on guitar and vocal, Kevin Fore on banjo and Wesley Clifton on mandolin. This combination of instruments is more common in bluegrass than traditional old time music. The band does an outstanding job in support Flippen’s fiddle, sometimes providing musical counterpoint as Edmond’s does on “Cider” with his three-string banjo. The group never fails to envelope the fiddle with a vibrant rhythmic foundation.

On tracks like “Lost Indian”, “Sugar in the Gourd” and “Sugar Hill”, the swirling music and Flippen’s keening fiddle would fill many a dance floor in short order. The disc opens with Flippen imitating a train sound before breaking into an intense fiddle breakdown on “Lost Train Blues”. Bode lays down a solid vocal on “Sittin’ On Top of the World” with the banjo and fiddle playing off each other to great effect.

His voice rings out on “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow” after some fine guitar picking to open the cut.  Flippen more than holds his own with his younger band members. Most of the tracks sport medium to fast tempos but when the pace slows on “Wednesday Night Waltz”, the octogenarian fiddler spins a delightful melody. He navigates the faster changes of “Soppin the Gravy” with ease. His duo with Edmonds on banjo on “The Girl I Left Behind Me” is another highlight.

Benton Flippen continues the tradition of old time string music through his playing and the tutoring of younger musicians. This release shows that his efforts have not been wasted. His music doesn’t shine with flashy solos and studio production techniques. It is a music that harkens back to a bygone era - music that still resonates today for those willing to take the time to listen - or better yet, get up and dance along !!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

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