For roots music to work, it needs to well up from a deep sense of love for the tradition. On the debut album, Hickory, from Boston fiddler Mariel Vandersteel, you can sense this love of the music in every beat. Each tune, drawn from old-time and Norwegian fiddle styles, has the mark of a musical memory. Perhaps a night of music among friends, or a fiddle lesson in Norway, or even a moment alone under a pine tree with her fiddle. You can hear the joy she takes in her music, and it helps that she’s a deft and subtle fiddler, able to draw the kind of emotion out of instrumental music that you’d expect from a song. She’s also a master at finding common ground between two traditions. Inspired by the beautiful harmonies of the Norwegian hardanger fiddle, she found a connection to the drone-heavy syncopations of Southern old-time fiddling. On Hickory, she effortlessly blends the two traditions together, reveling in the rich, acoustic tones of true folk music. Her fiddling lies somewhere between the old fjords of Norway and the ancient Blue Ridge Mountains.
Hickory is a product of Boston’s vibrant roots music scene, and it shows both in the music and in the friends that Mariel brings along with her. Respected guitarist Jordan Tice anchors the accompaniment on the album, while noted instrumentalists like Scottish harpist Maeve Gilchrist, mandolinist Dominick Leslie and bassist Sam Grisman of the Deadly Gentlemen, fiddler Tristan Clarridge of the Bee Eaters and Crooked Still, and guest fiddler Duncan Wickel contribute to the lush arrangements of the album. Throughout, Mariel’s fiddling shines like a polished gem, at turns racing through an old-time tune like the title track “Hickory,” or spinning gently along, as in the tune she wrote called “Sitting on the Ridge.” Mysterious old Norwegian tunes rub shoulders here with new compositions from Keith Murphy and Dirk Powell, compositions from Mariel herself, and old-time tunes inspired by sources like John Hartford and Foghorn Stringband.
Hickory is an inspiring testament to the power of the old tunes, and the new tunes that we continue to write. This is proof positive that traditional fiddling holds the same power today that it did hundreds of years ago. Hickory is an album of music with its roots deep in the past and its branches reaching into a new century.