Black Twig Pickers – Friend’s Peace

4 out of 5

Label: VHF Records

Produced by: Joe Dejarnette (recorded and mixed by)

Amongst all of the folkadelia on the VHF label, Black Twig Pickers are probably the most “traditional,” sticking very much to old-timey standards and banjo / fiddle instrumentation. It’s fair to say that, if not for the label association, I probably wouldn’t have them in my collection; it’s also fair to say that I’m happy that the label association has guided me to them, as I always enjoy their output more than I would expected. Appalachian folk just ain’t something my ears normally lean in to, but just as I’ve experienced with Jack Rose’s work on VHF, and Pelt’s latter-day stuff, I have to believe that there’s something about the band members’ various musical heritages that informs their BTP output to a degree, as it’s played and presented with a bit more bite than I sense in other similar artists’ works in the same genre. I’m sure with more patience and less bias I could probably discover similar things elsewhere, but I have bias with other labels that doesn’t have the same effect: records that fall flat, despite an admirable pedigree. So who knows?

Friend’s Peace is another album of familiar folk, recorded cleanly and played with passion. Past the midway point, some of the musical themes start to reappear (I do think old-timey can often be limited in this sense, at least to my untrained ear), but the album also has one of the best sequencings I’ve heard on a BTP disc, varying between fast-plucked tracks and slower waltzes. And countering some of the musical repetition, our players switch up lead vocal duties regularly, giving another degree of variation from track to track, Sally Anne Morgan’s vocals being especially pleasing and emotive. Towards the album’s conclusion, we start to branch out even further, pushing the folk arrangements toward more unique solo, acoustic rhythms – Barnswallow is beautiful, and the closing tribute to Jack Rose, Dan Friend’s Peace, is expansive, and moving.