Corn Potato String Band – Review by Gideon Thomas

Recorded (live, without overdubbing) in January 2014, the debut self-titled album from The Corn Potato String Band is now available. The trio – Aaron Jonah Lewis (fiddle, banjo, guitar, baritone fiddle), Ben Belcher (banjo and guitar) and Lindsay McCaw (fiddle, guitar, banjo, Hawaiian steel guitar and baritone fiddle), describe themselves as being ‘dedicated to continuing the traditional fiddle and banjo music and dance of the Central Southern US’. The record contains a variety of different songs and, predominantly tunes, taking in hoedowns, rags, and Mexican pieces, all set off with twin fiddling and double banjo.

The timing, sense of both time and place, and outright fun of pieces like Bell & Anchor Rag is impossible to miss. I couldn’t help shuffling along in my seat as the tune unfolded. The Band manage to evoke, through their choice of music and how it is presented, soul, humour and feeling (Chesapeake Bay). The music allows you to feel the band having as good a time playing, as we are having listening. There is much to be said for the way in which they have been able to put their own stamp on the material contained on ‘Corn Potato…’, and ensure that the power of the traditions they uphold shines through.

The original piece Route 77 has a lovely Greek/Mediterranean feel, with a summery disposition you just want to tap into time and time again, whilst Peor Es Nada shows off playing which, in common with much on the album, is both thrilling and on the edge – but constrained at the same time. The tunes are played with verve, a little bit of daring, and a sense of what the band are doing and why. Echoes of other types of music spill over into all of the pieces here, showing how much music moves across human-placed borders, and how good bands are not afraid of mixing things up. Marsovia for example shows crossover into the classical realm, and how close traditional and art music can be, in the right hands.

There is much variety in the styles and paces of the dance tunes, with the walking Nola rubbing shoulders with hotter sets like Chinese Breakdown, which shows off the skills of the bands members. All of the tracks really are consummately played and delivered.

‘The Corn Potato String Band’ is a fun, sweet record, with razor sharp tunes played with proper old time feeling. The selection, and the repertoire displayed, is inspirational. Tunes like Going To Town really move, generating energy and enthusiasm through their musicianship.