Barely Works

Don't Mind Walking

Green Linnet, 1992

It's obvious from looking at the personnel list that this is no ordinary traditional music ensemble -- or ordinary ensemble of any sort. The instrumentation is accordion (doubling on flute), banjo, fiddle, hammered dulcimer (doubling on percussion), trombone, tuba and drums. The material includes traditional songs, hornpipes and reels as well as original songs by band members.

Several of the originals remind me of a British version of Poi Dog Pondering, especially the funky album-opener "Something'll Have To Change" and the closing "Stand Together" (both written by banjoist Chris Thompson). The second track is a medley, which starts off with a traditional sounding fiddle-banjo duet on "Staten Island", then starts to sound more like a Bavarian brass band once the rhythm section comes in, then slides into a syncopated shuffle. Like Cordelia's Dad, the Barely Works clearly regard these tunes as part of an ongoing, evolving tradition; a raucous version of "Old Joe Clarke" confirms this. Various recognizable rhythms drift around here and there: samba on "Bread and Water", a bit of reggae, a snatch of New Orleans second-line -- but none of the tunes are cut from whole cloth, instead they're patchwork quilts that sound like no one style but their own. The weak link is that a couple of the original songs are not as memorable as they should be, but the arrangements and playing are always interesting.

Highly recommended to fans of the above-mentioned bands, or to anyone who likes folk music with a small "f" (and a large tuba).

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