Third Annual Farewell Reunion
Rounder CD 0313
review by Art Menius
Twenty years after his Second Annual Farewell Reunion for Mercury, Mike Seeger celebrates his Third Annual Farewell Reunion on his third recent Rounder release. With someone whose distinguished recording career spans nearly forty years, it proves hard to keep track and easy for a score to slip between annual farewell reunions. This splendid new release finds Seeger completing a career circle of sorts. Before joining the New Lost City Ramblers, the group–reunited for one cut here–which part the string band revival, Mike Seeger gained acclaim for recording master musicians of the then-new bluegrass style for Folkways. Third Annual Farewell Reunion finds him collaborating on a set of 23 traditional pieces with folks drawn from several aspects and generations of both the string band revival and the larger folk boom from whence it sprang.
Third Annual Farewell Reunion mixes informal recordings, not unlike Mountain Music Bluegrass Style or Second Annual Farewell Reunion, with the product of several studios in the USA and England during 1993 and 1994. The field recordings from the early 1980’s include such treasured old masters as the late Tommy Jarrell, who fiddles “Oldtime Sally Ann” the “right” way with Mike on guitar and Paul Brown on banjo, the now infirm banjo playing and songwriting matriarch Olabelle Reed, traditional bluesman John Jackson, and Joe and Janette Carter, the children of A.P. and Sara, two-thirds of the original Carter Family. Mike Seeger also teams with giants of the folk revival, including his older half-brother Pete (“900 Miles”), sisters Peggy and Penny, Jean Ritchie, bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, and even Bob Dylan. Accompanied by Seeger on banjo, the Zim clearly renders his own “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” which he had sung at Gerdes Folk City when Mike invited him on stage in August 1962. Seeger also joins with younger revival musicians such as the L-7’s, who kick off the disc with a magisterial “Shaking Off the Acorns,” the wry Hank Bradley, Michael Doucet of Cajun superstars Beausoleil, and Tim O’Brien, formerly lead vocalist of Hot Rize.
Mike Seeger’s stunning achievement is the consistency of Third Annual Farewell Reunion. As musician, producer, and recordist, Seeger makes nearly two dozen tracks from as many places and 14 years sound as if a big reunion actually happened in a single place. After a lifetime devoted to absorbing fully the traditional music of rural America, Mike Seeger draws from all his companions, whether Hazel Dickens or Maria Muldaur, performances that prove not merely respectful and tasteful, but genuinely displaying the soul and feeling of roots American music. Underneath the bright glow of superstars and old masters, Third Annual Farewell Reunion shines with the simple brilliance of honest music.