Corn Potato String Band CD Review by Sing Out!

Led by ace old-time fiddler Aaron Jonah Lewis, Corn Potato String Band can tear it up with the absolute best young old-time bands out there, but the real draw on their debut full-length is the wide-ranging curiosity they show sourcing new tunes. They tap into a lot of early American sounds and traditions, from novelty twin banjo tricks mixed with 3-finger bluegrass licks (“Route 77,” a tune Lewis wrote) to old Mexican stringband music (“Peor es Nada”). Some of the tunes like “Golden Slippers” and “Cumberland Gap” are favorites in square dances they play, and others come from nearly lost, rare sources like North Carolina’s Jack Reedy and his Walker Mountain String Band (“Chinese Breakdown”), or Texas swingsters W. Lee O’Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys (“Coquette”).

Fiddler Aaron Jonah Lewis actually has a lot of bands and a lot of albums up on Bandcamp, so search him out for more of his eclectic and high-spirited fiddling. Technically, he’s a brilliant fiddler, able to blend genres at will, and he’s got the kind of high-wire aggression that makes for compelling listening. Check out his fiddling on “Black & White Rag” and you’ll see what I mean. Rags are tricky beasts for most old-time fiddlers, and it sounds here like he was born to play these. As Aaron says, “I’ve been playing this one for years, ever since I bought a copy of the Fiddler’s Fakebook and discovered that I loved every tune with the word ‘Rag’ in the title.” Aaron and banjo player Ben Belcher have a great connection together, and like Aaron, Ben came up with the young stringband movement via the much-loved band The Hot Seats. Ben switches easily between old-time clawhammer banjo, 3-finger bluegrass, and even hot early 1900s picking. Rounding out the Corn Potato String Band, guitarist Lindsay McCaw is a well-known old-time player, as adept on the melody line as the accompaniment.

These clearly aren’t the usual spate of old-time Appalachian tunes, but rather speak to a larger view of American “old-time” music, to a time when rags and hoedowns spread throughout the US, picking up influences from everything from the music hall to Mexican stringbands.

-Devon Leger