Cathy Barton and Dave Para, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (May 11, 2003)

I found that perching on a counter provided the best view. There were few empty chairs in the church basement for this Mother's Day performance by Cathy Barton and Dave Para. The Missouri-based old-time musicians began with a discussion of the proper way to pronounce "Missouri" (opinion is evenly divided between "Mizz-oo-ra" and "Mizz-oo-ree"), before launching into "Rove, Riley, Rove" with Para on guitar and Barton on lap dulcimer. For the next hour, Barton would switch between lap dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, autoharp, banjo, and guitar, while Para played mostly six-string, and occasionally twelve-string, guitar, and at one point, a leaf. Yes, I said a leaf; more on that later.

A set of reels on the hammered dulcimer was followed by "Waiting For The Belle", a song about the steamboat Belle Of Louisville, with calliope tunes (played on guitar) interspersed between the verses. Tasty guitar and banjo solos spiced up the tragicomic "Springfield Mountain". "Come all you friends, a warning take, don't ever get bitten by a rattler snake"; that's good advice for anyone. More dance tunes on the hammered dulcimer came next, and then a Barton original, "Come Up Me", the siren call of the Missouri River. Barton mentioned being hesitant to perform her own works; no need to be if they're all as sweet and smooth as this one.

Earlier I mentioned playing the leaf. Para uses a piece of flexible vinyl, cut into a leaf shape, it being more durable than an actual leaf. Held to the lips and blown across like a reed, the sound is high-pitched and quavering, like some sort of low-tech organic theremin. Para treated the audience to a rendition of "Listen To The Mockingbird", complete with birdcalls. After the performance, Para led a few of the curious outdoors to pull leaves, and try it themselves (of course I was there).

Next up were a series of thematic songs: for Mother's Day, "I Used To Have A Good Mother And A Father", a bouncy Polish May tune for May, and for Sunday, a Carter Family gospel chestnut, "Meeting In The Air." The hour wound down with "Sweet Roseanna", a flowing waltz with an infectious chorus that practically begs for a sing-along, and closed with two more dance tunes, "Missouri River Waltz" and a lively "Mississippi Sawyer".

Besides being extremely talented, Barton and Para are warm and personable. This performance was a lot like sitting a parlor (admittedly, a big parlor) listening to a couple of friends. It was a delightful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

[Tim Hoke]

Cathy Barton and Dave Para have a Web site loaded with information, but no instructions on leaf playing.