CD Review - Fiddle Music of the North Country 
John Kirk and Friends 

Metroland - March 3, 2005

By Glenn Weiser
John Kirk and Friends
Fiddle Music of the North Country (Quickstep)

Visit John Kirk and Trish Miller's Website
A century ago, if you wanted to learn a stringed instrument and play light music for parties and dances here in upstate New York, you probably wouldn’t have chosen the guitar. Odds are you would have picked the then-more-popular fiddle. It was nicknamed “the Devil’s box” by respectable folk; its melodies were a bit sinful, often virtuosic, and, once mastered, great fun to play. The recent discovery by local fiddler and mandolinist John Kirk of a trove of sheet music formerly owned by a long-forgotten Saratoga band has led to a fine CD of Celtic-inspired fiddle tunes that, despite its historical and musical significance, never loses this vital sense of fun.

The Lockwood family of Greenfield Center had a group that performed in the area from the mid-1800s to at least the 1920s. In addition to playing well-known music like Stephen Foster’s songs and popular reels and jigs, the band also featured homegrown New York state tunes like “The Saratoga Hornpipe” and “Lake Eerie.” The ensemble’s three-generation lifespan and repertoire came to light when a local antique collector purchased the family’s sheet music collection and other musical artifacts at an estate sale in Saratoga Springs around five years ago and shared the music with Kirk. Fifteen of the 19 tunes on the CD are from this collection.

Joining Kirk are some the region’s finest traditional musicians: his wife Trish Miller on guitar and banjo; Ed Lowman on fiddle and double bass; Mac Benford on banjo; Frank Orsini, Sara Milonovich and Cedar Stanistreet on fiddle; Connie Hume on flute; and Mark Murphy on double bass. Together they deliver sprightly dances, fetching waltzes and airs, and the 19th-century hits “Old Dog Tray” by Stephen Foster and “Grandfather’s Clock” by Henry Clay Work.

Although Kirk and company’s playing on these 16 tracks is superb, the main attraction of the CD are the Lockwood tunes that evidently have lain dormant for decades. Many of these compare well with the old chestnuts of the fiddle repertoire. For example, “Lovely Jean” is a plaintive slow air, “Lake Eerie” is a jig Kirk pairs with the famous "Irishman’s Heart to the Ladies,” and “The Saratoga Hornpipe” is a catchy slow reel. The CD also contains a musical oddity: “A Curious Duet,” which seems to be a forgotten fiddler’s attempt at a classical composition. With Fiddle Music of the North Country, John Kirk has unearthed a fascinating piece of regional cultural history and distilled it into splendid music.

List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser                          ©2005 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.


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