CD Review: The Whippersnappers
Up Against It Now
By Glenn Weiser for Metroland, Feb 22, 2007

The Whippersnappers - Up Against It Now (Hearn Brothers Productions)

The Whippersnappers—multinstru-mentalists Peter Davis, George Wilson, and Frank Orsini—have enlivened the Capital Region folk-music scene for three decades. Davis is in the house band of Jay Unger’s WAMC radio show Dancing on the Air, playing guitar, piano, and clarinet; Wilson is a traditional fiddler and banjoist par excellence who has played with Fennig’s All-Stars and is a frequent performer at regional contradances and folk festivals; and fiddler-
mandolinist-guitarist Frank Orsini has played with bluegrass greats Bill Keith and Frank Wakefield. Assembled by Davis in 1976 to serenade the crowds at Saratoga Race Course, the trio released a cassette, Getting Happy, in 1988, and now, finally, has their first CD. Up Against It Now is a footstomping, ripsnorting collection of old-time music that juxtaposes country songs of the 1920s and ’30s with Celtic fiddle tunes, and shows much—but by no means all—of what these three can do.

Of the 13 tracks here, five are songs by banjoist and singer Uncle Dave Macon (1870-1952), an early star of the Grand Ole Opry who turned professional at age 50 when the automobile ruined his lucrative mule-and-wagon business. A man of the world, he disdained the fire-and-brimstone preachers of his native Bible Belt and wrote songs that were often funny and always down-to-earth. These are sung with rustic zest by Wilson, who also has mastered Uncle Dave’s intricate banjo style, with Orsini providing smooth backup on fiddle. Standouts are “I Was Born About 14 Billion Years Ago,” Uncle Dave’s version of the creation story, here reworked by Wilson to square with modern science, and “Buddy Won’t You Roll Down the Line,” about a controversial convict-leasing program of the early 20th century that supplied forced labor to Tennessee coal mines. Orsini then takes over the vocals for the French Canadian song “Les Raftsman,” which celebrates the leisure-time pursuits of the men who moved goods long ago on the northern waterways.

For the instrumentals, Wilson and Orsini team up on fiddle, alternating between unison and harmony lines with Davis expertly backing on guitar or piano. Not only is the fiddling vivacious, but the old traditional tunes themselves often have quaint and intriguing titles: “The Joys of Wedlock,” “The Gobby-O,” “Teviot Bridge,” “The Methlick Style.” What was the Gobby-O? Or the Methlick style? Alas, the unfortunately spotty liner notes don’t say.

Still, folk fans will relish this record. Let’s hope the Whippersnappers don’t make us wait another 19 years for the next one.

Index of Metroland Articles by Glenn Weiser    ©2007 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.  

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