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That Old Gang of Mine

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This title must have been something of a labor of love for label owner Bruce Kaplan, who had brought these artists over to his Flying Fish label when he left his management and production position at Rounder. He hired folk artist and songwriter Steve Goodman to produce a remarkable American string band that had roots in the hills of Tennessee in the 1930s yet was able to cover just about any type of music from swing jazz to country blues. An argument might be made that Goodman proceeded to water down the lemonade, adding session players such as Hugh MacDonald to some tracks as well as his own guitar picking. On the other hand, the loss of hearing in both ears would be a prerequisite to any complaints about the presence of mandolin picker Jethro Burns; he's a master and hearing him combined with fiddler Howard Armstrong's bebop leanings and Carl Martin's deeply contrasting mandolin style is definitely one of the highlights of this album. "Jamaica Farewell" is an unusual cut, combining Ted Bogan with guest Howard Levy, overdubbing himself on vibes and harmonica a few years before he went on play with banjoist Bela Fleck. Too bad they didn't pick a different tune to work out on, as they both seem constrained by this one. Levy also plays piano on "Nagging Woman Blues," providing Martin with a chance to do a blues vocal, once again a nice track but not really typical of what the band shines at. "Sheik of Araby" is the best example of that here, displaying both the swing and fun aspects and the flashy picking, and to nobody's surprise it features the basic group unadorned by guests. The smart way to get this material is to grab the CD version, complete with original cover artwork, which also includes the totality of the group's first self-titled Flying Fish album. Thus, one gets a full program featuring this band at its best along with the mixed results of Goodman's attempt at musical expansion.

That Old Gang of Mine, Martin Bogan
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