Curt Bouterse: Banjer On My Knee

Curt Bouterse: Banjer On My Knee cover art” width=”300″ height=”300″ />Hard work and honesty created folk music. The right tune could ease a hard day, bring a smile to a tired face, and liven up a quiet night at the pub. So today’s recordings suffer from enshrinement. Sanitized and held on high, the tunes lose what made them so special to the people who sang them.

I didn’t understand this until my junior summer when I took on a personal care attendant job. For five, twenty-three hour shifts, six days a week I lived with a couple who had been married twice as long as I had been alive. She had taught him in high school back in the day when area families hosted small town teachers. While I did the dishes after dinner, she would sit in the kitchen and sing me the songs he had sang her while they were courtin’.

In a voice as old and worn as the Appalachian Mountains surrounding our town, she sang songs of love and joy, waiting and sorrow. For the first time, I heard the soul that lives in traditional folk music.

Curt Bouterse’s Banjer On My Knee: Traditional American Old-Time Tunes And Songs captures the spirit that invaded the kitchen during those summer nights. The tight line up includes: Bouterse on dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, autoharp, spoons, kubing, fife, drum, and bango; Ray Bierl on fiddle and guitar; Larry Hanks on guitar; and L. Lee Davis joins everybody on vocals.

From the earnest Gold Watch and Chain Waltz to the haunting, a cappella version of Lone Prairie, Bouterse’s arrangements highlight the heart of each song. The effect is a walk through American folk history. The album is an instructive for the newcomer, but also a welcome addition to the connoisseur’s collection.

The couple I worked for have long since passed on and it’s been years since I thought of them. But when I heard Bouterse begin Froggy-Went a-Courtin’ as I was washing dishes, I smiled. Their old kitchen, lost down time’s river, had come right back. She’d always blush when he joined in “with a sword and a pistol by his side” as he rode up to Miss Mousie’s door. There was honesty in the way her cheeks turned pink. And like that old tune, it came in a story that could only be told with a song.

(Eagle’s Whistle Music, 2010)

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