Sweet Nell, New Old-Time Tunes (Coal Holler Music, 2002)

How can you have new old-time tunes, you might ask, and who the heck is Sweet Nell? Well I will tell you… Collectively Sweet Nell are Tom Adler, David Margolin, Jim Mullany, and Rob Pine. These four gentlemen have a panache for playing what Bluegrass fanatics call old-timey or contra music. Anyone who has been to a Folk Festival somewhere in the north of England, will have noticed there is nearly always a small group of people sitting in a circle somewhere on the field playing tunes they all seem to know, but in point of fact …they don't. But this doesn’t matter because of the format the music takes, and after the first round of the tune, the rest of the musicians can easily pick it up and join in. As with a Bluegrass picking session, this is the charm of the music.

On this album Sweet Nell have managed to collate 21 tunes they have each individually written to make the selection, hence the New Old-Time Tunes. It's produced by Tom Adler who also plays the guitar, banjo, and mandolin. David Margolin, Jim Mullany, and Rob Pine play fiddle and are accompanied by Jon Gagan on bass and guest musicians Richard Hardy on mandolin and Michael Knott on cello. Gary Ashkin adds fiddle on one or two tracks. Strangely they include one song 'Emily' at track 15, but for the most part the tunes and rhythms are mostly in the familiar Bluegrass 'two step' dance format. Ideal for a barn dance, as this is what anyone buying the album might want. However there are one or two slower waltzes, just so you can catch your breath!

To sum up, some nice fiddle playing and the band is very tight. This may not be an album that will suit everybody's taste. But it is certainly very interesting from the point of view that they have managed to come up with 21 'new' tunes in the old-timey mode. These needed to be recorded for posterity. A lot of Bluegrass fans on this side of the wishing well will find it a very good album from this standpoint.


[Peter Massey]