Wednesday, August 1, 2012

CD REVIEW - Pa’s Fiddle - The Music of America

By: W.J. Hallock

Pa’s Fiddle - The Music of America

Inspired by: the 'Little House On The Prairie' books of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Distributed by: Compass Records

The Little House On The Prairie books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the television series starring Michael Landon, are a multi-generational phenomena that have, and will continue to, affect American culture and history in the decades to come. In my own household, our children were raised on a steady diet of the books and the TV show, and their Grand Mother, a Depression era child, loved the show and books as much as the kids did.

There was a goodness, an innocence and an early American history lesson of right and wrong embedded in every chapter of each book and every episode of the series. The virtues of God, family and self sufficiency were unabashedly praised, loved and enjoyed by all who were fans. I wonder how many readers and viewers, just like me, watched, read and compared the experiences of the Ingalls family to our own family histories? Old photographs of my pioneering ancestors immediately come to mind. Change the names, and it was exactly the same life my great grandparents lived homesteading in the sand hills of Nebraska.

The input of musicologist Dale Cockrell, his knowledge of Joseph “Pa” Ingalls’ musical talents and his expertise in the music of the mid 19th century is the thread that holds this project together. He points out that in her books, Laura noted 127 songs that Pa loved and played. He also notes that Pa’s fiddle playing was probably a daily part of the often dreary, lonely and uncertain life they led. Mr. Cockrell helped to choose the seventeen songs presented here, and these songs are a wonderful cross section of gospel, patriotic and popular tunes from Pa’s era. Some also dealt with the issues of slavery. Just for fun, as you watch and listen, see how many of these songs YOU recognize!

The singers starring in this production all did a marvelous job of interpreting their chosen songs. Bluegrass newcomers, the Roys, country artists Ashton Shepherd, Natalie Grant and Rodney Atkins, and icons Ronnie Milsap and Randy Travis were super. But, the show stoppers were five wonderful African-American singers with the name “Committed”. This octet received standing ovations from the live crowd at Loveless Barn, in Nashville, TN. when they sang “Roll The Old Chariot Along,” and “The Battle Cry Of Freedom.” Their talent, charisma, power and stage presence were superb! Whoever found “Committed”, be it musical director Randy Scruggs, executive producer Dean Butler, Compass Records executive producer Garry West, Mr. Cockrell or some un-named talent coordinator, they should be lauded for their efforts in bringing these gentlemen to the show.

“The Pa’s Fiddle Band”, made up of six Nashville A-List musicians, seemed to be having as much fun as the singers. Even the stoic Mr. Scruggs, on acoustic guitar, was smiling and playing his fingers off! Hoot Hester on mandolin, Shad Cobb on banjo, Chad Cromwell on drums and bassist Dennis Crouch all looked completely at ease with “Pa’s” music. But, I enjoyed Matt Combs on fiddle the most…… it was like he was playing FOR Pa Ingalls. As THE instrument of the Ingalls story’s, too flashy would have been wrong for the songs and too simple would have been condescending.

Mr. Combs captured exactly the right feel and texture of what these historic songs dictated. I’m sure that “Pa” would have loved Matt’s fiddling! “Soldier’s Joy,” and “The Arkansas Traveler/Devil’s Dream,” played by these studio masters never sounded better or more historically appropriate.

As good a show as this was, the only thing I missed were back-ground vocals. “The Sweet By And By,” and “Rock Of Ages,“ sung by Randy Travis, would have benefited from more singers. The entire ensemble all packed the stage for the closing number “Ol’ Dan Tucker,” and again, “Committed” made the song even more memorable.

An integral part of this presentation are the bonus features at the end of the DVD. Mr. Cockrell’s “Notes on Pa’s Fiddle Music,” and “Little House On The Prairie: The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder” are as enjoyable as the music itself. My wife and I watched the DVD, and I watched again with my oldest daughter, and I came away both times with a very warm sense that the Ingalls books, and these songs, are an American treasure……. and will be for many generations to come. Yep….. Get “Pa’s Fiddle” and enjoy it with your whole family.

(Note: Pa's Fiddle is both a CD  and a DVD.  The DVD includes bonus tracks not included on the CD - "There Is A Fountain" by Natalie Grant, Dale Cockrell's notes mentioned above and a trailer on the legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder)


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