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Rising Sun Melodies

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Album Review

The majority of the songs on Rising Sun Melodies come from performances from two festivals — the Festival of American Folklife (1972) and the 1976 Festival on the National Mall — and capture the essence of Ola Belle Reed and her family's musical output. Assisted on many tracks by her husband Bud and her son David, as well as John Coffey, Kevin Roth, and a few others, the disc presents Reed and her family as a family powerhouse of musical performance, not unlike the Carter Family in country music. Even more impressive than her playing and singing is the fact that Reed was just as adept with the pen. Of the 18 different tracks on the set (one song repeats, although it's a different performance), she wrote or co-wrote ten of them. Curiously, "I've Endured" wasn't written until Reed was 50, although given its reflective nature it's quite fitting. "High on the Mountain" is cut from the same cloth. These two songs have become standards of the bluegrass genre and many more of her songs have influenced generations since. When she wasn't performing her own material, she was putting her stamp on songs written by others. "Sweet Evalina," whose origins are primarily unknown beyond its initial publication in the 1860s, is a waltz that finds her singing a song about another woman. She also performs Hank Williams' "I Saw the Light," a well-known gospel tune that also features fine fiddle work from John Coffey. Reed has a short monologue to introduce "I Saw the Light," in which we can hear that there was little difference between her singing and speaking voices. In that monologue, she professes her belief in being true to the original message of the songs, regardless of the stories. Given that she was well into her fifties when she performed this song, it's hard to argue against someone with such vast life experiences. Copious liner notes by Jeff Place accompany the compilation that give in-depth analysis to the life and times of Ola Belle Reed and her family. Smithsonian Folkways again proves its worthiness by issuing a release that encapsulates American music history. Reed is a national treasure to behold.

Customer Reviews

Pioneering Appalachian singer, songwriter and string player

Ola Belle Reed is destined for repeated rediscovery. An Appalachian singer steeped in the mix of folk styles born of America’s melting pot, she was discovered at her family’s country music park, by 1950s folk revivalists. By that time she’d already been playing and singing for several decades, and her national emergence at the 1969 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife showcased a talent that was pure in its folk roots and mature in its expression. Her appearances resulted in recordings for the Folkways label and a 1976 audio documentary, My Epitaph. Her songs have been recorded by Marty Stuart, Del McCoury, the Louvin Brothers and Hot Rize, but it’s her own versions that best capture the folk tradition that she so fully embodied. Belle looked, dressed, talked and performed as a folk musician – part of a folk community rather than a commercially-bred folk scene. Reed was bred among musicians: her father was a fiddler, one uncle ran a singing school and another taught her to play clawhammer banjo. Her father, uncle and aunt started a band in the early decades of the twentieth century, and Ola Belle and her brother Alex played in the North Carolina Ridge Runners before forming their own band in the late 1940s. Her husband Bud was also a musician, and his family combined with Reed’s to open the New River Ranch country music park. The park hosted most of Nashville’s major stars and many of Wheeling’s best acts, with Ola and Alex’s New River Boys and Girls serving as the opening act and house band. Oddly, at the crucial moment when Gei Zantzinger arrived to record the group, Alex chose not to participate – leaving the recording to be billed under Ola Belle’s name. This set of nineteen tracks collects eleven from her previously released Folkways LPs and adds eight previously unreleased cuts from 1972 and 1976 archival recordings. The titles include Belle’s best-known originals, including the oft-covered “I’ve Endured” and “High on the Mountain,” as well as terrific renditions of fiddle tunes, mountain songs and nineteenth century standards that include “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” “Foggy Mountain Top,” and “Look Down That Lonesome Road.” Her son David Reed provides harmony on Ralph Stanley’s gospel “I Am the Man, Thomas,” but its her solo vocals that show how thoroughly she could imbue a lyric with aching loneliness. As she says in introducing “Undone in Sorrow,” “When I do a song that is as old as the hills and has the oldest flavor, as Betsy said, ‘If it’s a sad sad sad mournful song, when I get done with it, it’ll be pitiful’.” Reed’s strength as a musician was matched by her humanitarianism as a Christian, both of which you can hear in the life force with which she leads her group through the disc-closing (and previously unreleased) rendition of “Here Comes the Light.” As she’s quoted saying in the 40-page booklet: “That’s what I am saying, that you cannot separate your music from your lifestyle. You cannot separate your lifestyle, your religion, and your politics from your music, it’s part of life” Jeff Place’s extensive liner notes do a terrific job of telling Reed’s story through quotes, interviews and archival photos. If you haven’t already been clued in to Reed’s original recordings, this is an exemplary way to make their acquaintance. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Old Ola Belle

I live right here in rising sun md and my uncle knew ola belle very well and my grandmother also knew her her music is simply awesome and i send my condolences to the reed family from there recent passings in the family. And by the way we miss you Ola Belle we miss you


Born: August 17, 1915 in Lansing, NC

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Take a stroll through the campground at just about any festival -- folk, bluegrass, old-time, Celtic, or any mixture -- and at some point it's a good bet that a haunting refrain will drift into consciousness from a nearby jam or song circle: "High on a mountain, standing all alone, Wond'ring where the years of my life have gone" To some, it's a timeless line from a song that must certainly be at least a hundred or more years old. To others, it speaks of the new age mysticism and introspection of...
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