Wolves A-Howlin’ sees talented young fiddle player Kieran Towers join forces with Charlotte Carrivick (banjo/guitar/mandolin) on a collection of old-time fiddle tunes. Uncompromising both in their selection and interpretation of the material and in their high level of musicianship, the young duo delivers an impressive performance on their first recording together. Carrivick is well known on the UK folk music and bluegrass scene with bands The Carrivick Sisters (alongside twin Laura) and four-piece Cardboard Fox, and is a prodigious multi-instrumentalist and singer with those outfits. Interestingly, in this set-up, she tends to be the musical foil to Kieran Towers, the fiddle taking the lead instrument role in the old-time tradition. Nevertheless, Charlotte’s playing is excellent, subtle and tasteful throughout. Towers is an exceptional young fiddler, contest winner and a member of popular bluegrass/old-time band The Hot Rock Pilgrims. He takes his rightful place at the forefront of this project, his impressive and sensitive fiddle playing the star of the show. Both only in their 20s, Kieran and Charlotte are highly experienced and skilful musicians at the height of their powers, and this album of old-time Appalachian fiddle tunes showcases their virtuosity and love for the genre.
The album starts as it means to go on, with a power chord kicking off the barnstorming Best Timber. This one is a corker, the fiddle complemented by unshowy but vibrant guitar back-up. A couple of Marcus Martin tunes follow, Booth (known for the Uncle Earl version among others) and Polly Put the Kettle On (with a nod to the playing of Brittany Haas). Booth is a joyful fiddle and banjo duet, with Carrivick’s clawhammer banjo weaving around the melody in a delightful counterpoint. The latter tune sees Carrivick picking up the mandolin, and she leads out with some fine picking, the pair then duetting on the melody before Charlotte switches to some bluegrass-style chopping among a range of tasteful back-up. The intriguingly named I Thought You Were a Goat #3 (an original by Towers) is another perky fiddle and banjo duet, while Biddy is a real high & lonesome, somewhat repetitive tune with what sounds like fiddlesticks (or a dulcimer?) in the background, joined by clawhammer banjo. Tommy Jarrell’s Rockingham Cindy is a more upbeat tune, again with fiddle and banjo weaving around each other beautifully.
Towers clearly likes to give his own tunes distinctive names, and I Wash Myself with a Rag on a Stick, a quirky, driving number, is followed by a jaunty co-written ode to a New Carpet in an unusual FCAC tuning (fCACC on the banjo). In fact, in typical old-time fashion, the album features many different cross tunings (although quite a few tracks are in standard tuning). There’s more fiddle & banjo on Muddy Creek (John Salyer) and Poplar Bluff, a classic Ed Haley tune that Towers and Carrivick deliver a cracking version of, on fiddle and mandolin. Kieran swoops up and down like a man possessed on the Art Stamper tune Rusty Gun, with Charlotte’s rhythmic banjo picking shadowing him perfectly.
Sally Coming Through the Rye is one of my favourites here, a slower tune with rock-solid guitar underpinning the menacing fiddle lines (we’re in a highly unusual FCFC tuning now!) which give the definite impression that Sally is about to meet an untimely end at the hands of an unsuitable suitor.
Next up, Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase switches gear with John Breese on bluegrass banjo joining Charlotte’s guitar backup and Kieran’s lively fiddle. The album’s rounded off with the title track, a fun version of Wolves A-Howlin’ and the only track to feature a wee bit of singing (and howling). Mention must be made of Josh Clark, UK recording engineer of choice for bands playing in the genre. Josh has done a beautiful job on the album, recording directly to tape at Bath-based Get Real Audio, although I imagine this stripped-down style of music needs a light touch rather than a lot of extras, especially when working with musicians of this calibre.
Wolves A-Howlin’ features a clutch of instrumentals expertly performed in the American old-time style, and while anyone with ears could appreciate the quality on offer here, it’s likely to appeal most to a hardcore of old-time music aficionados. It’s a labour of love and a great calling card for Towers and Carrivick’s live performances.
Wolves A-Howlin’ will be released in early September. The album launch will take place at The Harrison in London on Wednesday 7th September, 8 pm.
The album will be available on Bandcamp and iTunes, and in CD format at their gigs.
More here: www.facebook.com/towerscarrivick