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The Hushpuppies 

Between the Civil War and World War II, both blacks and whites in central North Carolina played fiddle and banjo music. Three decades ago, Durham and Chapel Hill musicians helped spawn the old-time music revival, and, ever since, the area has attracted the best young players of this genre--a musical style that hasn't enjoyed commercial success since the Great Depression. Those in the grip of old-time music's compelling rhythms and sometimes-incomprehensible story songs count their good fortune to enjoy such top-notch ensembles as The Hushpuppies, whose lovely Bob Carlin-produced debut CD features respected veterans Jon Nowlin, Amy Davis, Molly Stouten and Steve Terrill.

The Hushpuppies approach old-time as a rural American classical music. Based on a rich text of live and recorded performances, the old-time classicist's ideal is to get it "right," an elusive concept far subtler than notes, time signatures or exacting technique. The more precisely--and the old masters were very precise--the musician can grasp these concepts, the farther he or she can climb the seven-story mountain of Southern rural music. And The Hushpuppies definitely get it right on their eponymous project by respectfully approaching the music to mine its vocal resources, while eschewing the string bass that propels such popular bands as the Highwoods String Band and the Freight Hoppers.

The disc's 16 songs explore the surprising diversity of old-time music by offering Carter and Stoneman Family material, energetic dance music, fiddle tunes, humorous and sacred songs and sad ballads of alcoholism and what it's like to be an ex-convict. Classicists, but not purists, The Hushpuppies turn the bluegrass of Flatt & Scruggs' "Don't This Road Look Rough and Rocky" into a gorgeous slow-tempo vocal number, then adopt bluegrass harmonies on Roy Acuff's "Branded Wherever I Go." With all four players sharing in the singing, The Hushpuppies' superior vocals distinguish them beyond the excellent taste in both playing and choice of material that great old-time music demands. That the group can convey their joy in playing and singing makes The Hushpuppies (available from a wonderful record.

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