I adore this album. The title says exactly what it is, fiddle and banjo, and Koulack and Sawitsky apply them to a handful of wonderful tunes and sparkling performances. There are some voices, too, and lots of energy, as on a great, rousing arrangement of “Little Birdie.” But there are lots of delicate, surprising moments too. “Lullaby” is quiet, restrained, and absolutely gorgeous. Just a fiddle and a banjo hanging out together for a while, having a conversation about this and that.
Not all the pieces are traditional, but everything feels of a piece, even despite that the ones that are traditional come to us from a diverse range of traditions: Metis, Quebecois, old-time, and Appalachian. You may think you don’t need to hear “Groundhog” again, but these guys prove that you do. “The Old French Set” marries a number of tunes and styles that you could hear in Quebec on any given night. There as elsewhere the arrangements are deceptively complex, holding interest no matter how familiar the tunes may be. The album ends with a highlight, a wonderfully sparse presentation of Blind Alfred Reed’s “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live.” With music like this, apparently.
— Glen Herbert