by James M. Manheim · Ann Arbor Observer · May, 2016
The Corn Potato String Band
I heard a duo formation of the Corn Potato String Band, “the ears and eyes of America,” one Friday in February over happy hour at PJ’s Lager House in Detroit. I had been waiting for years, decades even, for old-time music to reach a level of popularity where you might hear it in a bar, and I was intrigued to hear from the proprietor, former Ann Arborite P.J. Ryder, that he’s transitioning the place, the very epicenter of Jack White-era Detroit rock ‘n’ roll, to Americana music. The fiddle lines of Aaron Jonah Lewis had not only the strength but also the clarity to slash through the bring-on-the-weekend bar talk, and Lewis’s genuinely impressive beard fit the urban-roots vibe.
That mix of power and clarity is what gets and holds your attention. The Corn Potato String Band hits a sweet spot between the punk speeds of Old Crow Medicine Show and the Hackensaw Boys on one hand and the delicate precision of Norman Blake on the other. The result is a tremendously infectious show that has earned raves not only from the Scotsman, which ought to know about good fiddling, but even the Hindustan Times (“power-packed performance!”), which encountered the band on its 2013 U.S. State Department Cultural Diplomacy tour.
The Corn Potato String Band is usually a trio, and that’s how they’ll appear at the Ark on May 15 (see Nightspots). Guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Lindsay McCaw and banjoist Ben Belcher provide extremely forward-driving backing for the fiddle lines, and the band’s repertory is diverse, with such novelties as polkas and French-Canadian and Mexican tunes supplementing the old-time music. The band also has an eye for country songs that make good old-time pieces, like the obscure “Bacon and Eggs” from the Lovett Sisters, onetime stars of Dallas’s Big D Jamboree. The second Corn Potatoes album has more vocals than the first one, with precise harmonies to match the ace instrumental work, but there are still plenty of dance rhythms. (They’re coming to town with a new album that expands the range still more, with swing fiddle and an old Mexican-Hawaiian guitar tune.) Agile twin-fiddle and twin-banjo pieces add to the balance of precision and energy.
A number of old-time bands have come along, in Michigan and elsewhere, over the last few years, but this one’s a standout, and their choice of Detroit as a home base provides a more reliable indicator of the city’s revival than does the sidewalk army of private guards on Segways. For the Corn Potatoes’ Ark show, the fine Detroit old-time band Lac La Belle will be opening and providing a lyric counterpart to the Corn Potatoes’ vivid instrumental shapes.
-James M. Manheim · Ann Arbor Observer · May, 2016
- Review by Rob Adams for The Herald, Scotland. September 30, 2015
Corn Potato String Band, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
The terms “instrument swapping” and “communal guitar” take on new meaning when the Corn Potato String Band come to town. Even their name threatens to change, into Corn Potato Swing Band, as Aaron Jonah Lewis, Lindsay McCaw and Ben Belcher delve into the history of American roots music and share their varyingly honest, homespun and virtuosic findings from the tune that was Abraham Lincoln’s favourite through the New Mexican wave, ragtime, Hank and Slim to their own Route 77, a rare original in two dedicatedly researched and lovingly delivered sets.
Lewis and Belcher have form going back some way in these parts, being participants in the madly brilliant, Flatt & Scruggs to Frank Zappa team that was Special Ed & the Shortbus, the Herald Angel winners who thought better of that politically dodgy moniker and mutated into the Hot Seats. There’s no Zappa in the current trio, save for Lewis’s zany humour, but the tightness of arrangements that marked out Special Ed is very much at play as two fiddles and guitar tear up a polka, two banjos and guitar combine to create a kind of player piano effect, three voices blend in emotional longing, and three fiddles converse with rustic fidelity.
In among all that there was heartfelt and harmonious yodelling, rhythmically swinging and musically propellant square dancing from McCaw and a Russian Rag where fiddles and banjo brought both flavours suggested in the title together into something resembling Cossack bluegrass. A fun and enriching evening that even had something for the twitchers in the audience in the shape of the generously bearded Lewis’ compendious and mirthful birdsong impersonations – on fiddle.
- A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange by Mark S. Tucker
Volume 2, a live-in-studio recording (no overdubs!), follows up on The Corn Potato String Band’s very well received debut, which then saw them touring Ireland, the UK, Europe, and the US, most especially because, for a trio, they kick out a hell of a lot of extremely high-spirited music, masters of their instruments. (more…)
Review by Doug DeLoach in Songlines
Next time you’re thinking about hosting a square dance or a hoedown, give the Corn Potato String Band a holler. Sticking with the formula that worked on the band’s eponymously-titled, debut album, this sequel stars the same award-winning trio: Aaron Jonah Lewis (fiddle, banjo, guitar, vocals), who has appeared on dozens of recordings playing bluegrass, old-time, swing jazz, modern experimental and Turkish classical music; Lindsay McCaw fiddle, guitar, banjo, Hawaiian steel, vocals), an Americana performer and bona fide dance caller of some 15 years; and Ben Belcher (banjo, guitar) who has been a regular at Edinburgh Fringe with The Hot Seats and performed at the Shetland Folk Festival.
What sets the music of the Corn Potato String Band apart is a deeply pervasive strain of soulful spontaneity, which so many similar groups seek but never manage to find. From hootenanny send-ups such as ‘Raleigh and Spencer’ and twin-fiddling showcases like ‘Russian Rag’ and gospel-tinged toe-tappers like ‘Little Black Train’, the Corn Potato String Band reel with virtuosic swagger, never letting sentimentality or historiography get in the way of a wailing good tune.
Corn Potato String Band Volume 2 (Agilest Music no cat no).
Multi-instrumentalists Aaron Jonah Lewis, Lindsay McCaw and Ben Belcher, like Spinal Tap’s Viv Savage, ‘have a good time all the time’, swinging like the hairy clappers of hell on authentic American fiddle ’n’ banjo music. Virtuosic, old-time fun.
- by Marc Griffiths · Global Texan Chronicles
So I’m standing in the Cumberland Arms in Newcastle and The Corn Potato String Band have taken to the stage. The three of them, Aaron Jonah Lewis, Lindsay McCaw and stand in Third Potato for the tour, Luke Richardson stand around a single condenser microphone. The audience, myself included stand eager to do a spot of time travel and look into the past. In some ways we do. (more…)
- by Marc Griffiths · Global Texan Chronicles
Ok where to start, I’m gonna give this review headings so I don’t get carried away and gush all over the page:
1. FUN (and lots of it)
The irreverent, fun approach taken by Aaron Jonah Lewis, Lindsay McCaw and Ben Belcher is what draws you into this record. Happiness, fun times and a love for the tune springs from the imaginary grooves of the record (I had to listen on CD I’m afraid). I feel incredibly happy this music is in the world! (more…)
What best describes the Corn Potato String Band—and what comes through on their debut recording—are such concepts as eclecticism and good humor; recklessness, yet talent enough to keep that recklessness in check; and charm, yet not in an overly sweet, cloying way. They start with a foundation as a traditional fiddle, banjo, and guitar string band. Aaron Jonah Lewis plays all three of those instruments, as does Lindsay McCaw (adding in Hawaiian steel guitar), while Ben Belcher plays banjo and guitar. Who plays what on which track is not stated. There is also some singing on three tracks, again without attribution.
In the traditional fiddle band formation, they tackle “Chinese Breakdown,” “Cumberland Gap,” and Arthur Smith’s 1937 ripper, “Going To Town.” Of those, “Cumberland Gap” is most in the fiddle-band style. On “Chinese Breakdown,” using twin fiddles and guitar, they manage to voice the fiddle parts so that there is the effect of a non-existent accordion, giving the tune a merry-go-round-broke-down whirl. For “Going To Town” the guitar is replaced by bluegrass banjo. All three really get at it and stay at it. (more…)
- Published in The Bluegrass Ireland Blog by Richard Hawkins · 31 May, 2014
Thanks to Aaron Jonah Lewis for the news that the Corn Potato String Band (USA), who will be performing in Ireland from 13 to 28 June inclusive in the course of a tour of Europe, are releasing today their new CD. It is now available at all the major digital distributors, and is available in physical or digital form from Cd Baby. (more…)
- Review published by Gideon Thomas · 14 March, 2014
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. (more…)