TITLE: BARN DANCE

ARTIST: LITTLE BLACK TRAIN

LABEL: NATIVE HOME MUSIC

RELEASE DATE: April 2012

By Jackie Morris

Barn_DanceThere is live music, and then there is alive music. Barn Dance, the second album by Little Black Train, is both. Recorded in the tradition of early bluegrass, around a pair of stereo microphones – Barn Dance is old-timey, foot-stompin’, non-stop fun taken to new heights by a trio of veteran musicians.

The trio consists of West Virginia native Stuart Mason, whose deep roots in traditional music are reflected in his authentic lead vocals, guitar, mandola and banjo; John Weed, whose old-time Irish fiddling style and harmony vocals carry the listener back through the centuries; and Kenny Blackwell, whose sometimes-bluesy, sometimes-jazzy, and always brilliant mandolin or guitar embroiders every melody, along with his harmony vocals.

Individually, each band member is an exceptionally accomplished musician with a long list of credentials (among which, Mason and Weed have toured extensively with Molly’s Revenge; Blackwell has collaborated with the progressive fiddler Richard Greene and the legendary Laurel Canyon Ramblers). But together, they achieve something that transcends their individual talents…an energy that will truly take you for an exciting, creative ride!

Enhancing this effect is Little Black Train’s unique mix of “oldternative Americana,” as they call it. Each of the 12 tracks brings a different style and rhythm to the ear, ranging from old-timey songs to instrumental barn dances from Northern Ireland in the 1800s…from depression-era blues to gospel songs of the Deep South. And each of these selections is a gem, penned by the likes of Jimmy Rodgers, Reverend Gary Davis, Prince Albert Hunt, Charlie Poole, and the Carter Family, among others.

The album gets off to a rollicking start with Old Black Dog, an old-time favorite by Dick Justice with a definite Ragtime flavor and a reference to the group’s name (“See that little black train coming…”). This playful number is followed by the darker Appalachian tones of Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down. And this, in turn, serves to juxtapose the light and lively, classically Celtic gem, Barn Dances. A century and an ocean apart, these numbers all flow together seamlessly, reminding us of the common Irish and Scottish roots of our Appalachian and Bluegrass heritage.

Litttle_Black_TrainWeed’s classical training on the violin, including years spent in Ireland, can be heard distinctly on the four instrumental numbers (especially on the beautiful closing track, Campbell’s Tater Patch). Simultaneously playful and elegant, his fiddle takes turns with Blackwell’s sparkling mandolin to play melody and harmony.

Mason’s solid guitar, on the hand, is the driving force of several wonderful blues numbers, including the heavily syncopated Death Don’t Have No Mercy, with its cool jazzy vibe; and one of my personal favorites, Blues in the Bottle. Mason also shows off his yodeling skills in Jimmy Rodger’s California Blues, and showcases an old-fashioned clawhammer banjo on The Bravest Cowboy.

Throughout the album, Mason’s strong, engaging vocals are seamlessly supported by two-part harmonies from Weed and Blackwell. But beyond their tight harmonies and instrumental interplay…beyond their knowledge of traditional styles and inspired improvisation…Little Black Train displays an amazing musical synergy. I think it stems from the fact that, as the band is quick to point out, they have so much fun playing together. But whatever the reasons, the result is a truly infectious vitality, spontaneity and joy that infuse the whole album. I dare you to sit still when you listen to Barn Dance!

Little Black Train CD Barn Dance can be purchased on CD Baby.

A New York transplant to the tiny town of Carpinteria, CA, Jackie is a freelance writer by profession and a singer-songwriter by passion. Her newly-released third album of original Folk/Americana songs was among Top Folk Albums of 2011 on the Folk Music Radio Airplay Charts. Jackie is also an active member in such acoustic music communities as SummerSongs, SongMakers, and FARWest Folk Alliance.