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Wednesday, October 7, 1998

Hillbilly Roots

Posted By on Wed, Oct 7, 1998 at 12:00 AM

There were two weeks in 1927 when Bristol, Tennessee was at the nexus of country music. This is when and where Ralph Peer initially recorded some of the most important and influential country music performers of all time, including Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family and the Stoneman Family.

There was a raw, intuitive sense of swing and vitality to those performances that also infects the music of the Freight Hoppers. Even though the band is a relatively new unit (begun in 1993), these players have what some folks would call "old souls." Their music springs from the wellspring of American tradition with a vibrancy that belies the archival roots of the material they play.

People call this music "oldtimey," but the way the Freight Hoppers play it transports the mountain muse to the cusp of the 21st century by acknowledging its past and reveling in it. Rather than entomb the songs in reverent academia, the Freight Hoppers pick, strum and bow with controlled abandon, bringing excitement to "Hell Broke Loose in Georgia," "Polecat Blues" and other traditional classics. The hollers are full throated; the gospel tunes are heartfelt and the ballads call up images of Elizabethan pathos filtered through Appalachian sensibilities. Special note should be given to Cary Fridley as she unveils one of the most mournful, soulful country voices since Maybelle Carter while singing the a cappella "A Roving on a Winter's Night."

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