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Album Review

Falling just a bit short of being one of this group's best, this album presents the Red Clay Ramblers of North Carolina in transition between what had been a classic lineup of players and the changing process of the group's later years, in which, one by one, these original members would drop out to either pursue solo careers or for health reasons. Fiddler Bill Hicks was the guy on the way out the door here, and still was enough of a bandmember to contribute fiddling on a few of the tracks. His replacement Clay Buckner gets his face on a Red Clay Ramblers album cover for the first time here. A great fiddle player, Buckner surely changed the political balance in the group as it dealt with the conflicts between old-time music and the new music being written by pianist Mike Craver and pianist Tommy Thompson. Buckner knows his way around the old-time fiddle repertoire, but also seemed to be one of the first members of this group to step forward when any mission was proposed that would take the band out of the Appalachian hills. When the influence of songwriters such as Stephan Foster and George Gershwin are taken into account, a Craver tune such as "Matinee Idol" might serve to expand a listener's concept of the Red Clay Ramblers from being simply an old-time revival outfit to something like masters in the overall field of musical Americana. But that's only if one likes the song or this type of material, and if that is not the case the album will completely crawl to a hault like a British taxi cab in the traffic situation known as "choc-a-bloc." Thompson gets things going again with the hilarious "The Face in the Mirror," which makes use of everything the band is good at, beginning with beautifully recorded old-time picking and continuing with bits of swing and Craver's pretty music hall-style obligatto. Uncle Dave Macon's "Chicken" gets the raunchy treatment it deserves, no surprise, but the lovely version of "The Wind and the Rain" is a really impressive deepening of the group's ability to project the combination of sentimentality and sadism that makes old-time music so enduring. The Irish material gets an extra boost by the guest shot from Triona Di Dhomhnail on bodhran.


Formed: Chapel Hill, NC

Genre: Country

Years Active: '70s

One of the most authentic of the string band revival groups, the Red Clay Ramblers performed traditional Appalachian folk music and contemporary compositions, and mixed genres with such talent and authority that for years they were considered among the best of the modern revivalists of string band music. The Chapel Hill, NC-based quintet included Tommy Thompson (banjo, vocals), Jim Watson (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Mike Craver (piano, harmonium, vocals), Jack Herrick (bouzouki, guitar, harmonica,...
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Hard Times, The Red Clay Ramblers
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