There is a novelty to being a family band, just as there is a novelty to being very young yet sounding like someone who has been playing for decades. There was a time when the Snyder Family Band was both of those things—I first heard them when a friend took me to the Cook Shack, a small, cozy roadhouse in rural North Carolina to see a little girl play fiddle. There, surrounded by the Saturday morning pickers, Samantha Snyder’s playing was truly enthralling. She just got up there, so humbly, and played along with the others while her parents sat eating breakfast in one of the booths. Yes, her playing was perhaps immature, but she nevertheless was playing well beyond her years, and doing it in a group of people that were just having a lot of fun making music together, just as they did most Saturday mornings over breakfast. It was one of the those life affirming things, a reminder that stunning things can still happen, and if you are in the right chair and facing the right direction, you might catch them. The people passing on the road outside had no idea what they were missing.
Well, time marches on, and soon the Snyders were playing the smaller stages at MerleFest, and then they were playing gigs, and then there were the albums. There was always still a whiff of novelty to the group, and Bud, Zeb and Samantha’s father, took up bass guitar, the story goes, when the family gave him a bass for Christmas and told him to learn to play it. Samatha’s voice was immature, in a clinical sense, because frankly she was so young. Zeb played guitar, beautifully, and while it could at times be a bit formulaic, what he was doing was still remarkable, and simply enjoyable, not only given how far he had come in his playing at such a tender age.
All that said, their new album, Building Bridges, is something different. It’s their first album of all originals, and as such, whether you are aware of it or not, is a unique expression of the musical community that they have grown up within. “Mountain Railway” is a composition inspired by the playing of Doc Watson, someone the Snyder’s knew and played with. On most of the tracks, Zeb plays the guitar that was built for him by Wayne Henderson, a celebrated luthier and player that, often as not, is right there at the Cook Shack with the rest of them. “Blue Bottle Blues” is an instrumental dedicated to a friend, Reggie Harris, who made Zeb’s bottleneck slide out of, well, a bottle neck.
The music here is varied from swing, to country, to even some jazz touches on “Reed’s Overture” and elsewhere. It’s a delight throughout, but it’s also a reminder that we can enjoy music on so many levels. There is joy in listening to good recordings, but there is also joy in being aware of where music comes from and why. And there is something wonderful about just sitting in a circle and making music together, not to compete or compare, but just to make a sound. This album, when you scratch a bit below the surface, is about all of that.