IRA BERNSTEIN & RILEY BAUGUS – Appalachian Roots (Yodel-Ay-Hee CD-0046)

Appalachian RootsI’m pretty sure I saw Ira Bernstein demonstrating his Appalachian clogging and flatfooting when he was the sensation of the festival circuit back in the 1980s. I have a vivid picture in my mind of a man impossibly high off the ground given that he was step-dancing and I hope I’m not mistaken. Riley Baugus I don’t know but here they are together on Appalachian Roots, Riley on banjo, fiddle and vocals and Ira showing that he also plays a mean fiddle. Ira and Riley explain that this is their first recording and was done live off the floor with any fluffs left in. It was actually recorded in 2002 and, reading between the lines a bit, it seems that it is now being released (or re-released) in the UK to tie in with a short tour by Riley.

If you’re familiar with the music of southern Appalachians you’ll know what to expect but you probably won’t be prepared for the banjo to break off for a flatfooting solo, which is what happens in ‘John Hardy’- not once but twice. Some of the titles will be familiar but the content behind them may not. ‘Man Of Constant Sorrow’, which Riley is adamant was written by Dick Burnette, has points in common with the “traditional” song but with a very different feel. As for ‘Shortenin’ Bread #1’; remember the horribly sanitised version that entered the skiffle repertoire? Forget it. Riley begins with what he calls “preaching”, the roaring tale of a preacher going to a parishioner’s house for some home cooking – Ira taps the percussion accompaniment. In between these is ‘Callahan’s Reel’ featuring the best fiddle sticks playing I’ve ever heard – Ira again.

Other Appalachian classics in this set include ‘Roustabout’, ‘Old Joe Clark’, ‘Cluck Old Hen’ and ‘Wild Bill Jones’ but there really isn’t a dull track and Riley and Ira are scrupulous in noting the sources of their songs and tunes. If you like folk music raw and authentic, you really must listen to Appalachian Roots.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

‘John Hardy’ live with a guest appearance by Dirk Powell: