Black Twig Pickers: Isak Howell (guitar); Mike Gangloff (fretless banjo); Ralph Berrier Jr. (fiddle).
Recorded live to DAT in Southwestern Virginia.
Personnel: Dan Crawford (spoons).
Recording information: Ironto, VA (2000); Roanoke, VA (2000).
Coming out some months after the brief wave of hype about the Soggy Bottom Boys and "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow," North Folk Flyer draws a clear line between the real deal and the one most people thought was real. With a connection to the avant-folk-psych characters in Pelt, the Black Twig Pickers tackle straight-up traditional Appalachian work on their debut album, a collection recorded "on front porches and in front rooms" throughout Virginia. Though the group describes its material as "mountain ragas," the comparison isn't stylistic but in terms of heritage -- like Indian classical music, the songs played are for the most part decades-old favorites worked and reworked over the years. Some originals surface, but they're part and parcel with the older material, and the performances themselves are flat-out great. All three key members sing, with further responsibilities split among the group thus: Ralph Berrier, Jr. on fiddle, Mike Gangloff on banjo, and Isak Howell on guitar and harmonica. Guest Dan Crawford contributes spoons here and there as well. There's no two ways about it -- all three have clearly lived inside and with this music for years, and the collection as a whole reflects a tangible joy in performing and singing. When the group aims at calmer material, the effect is perfectly bewitching -- fans of John Fahey's work will likely find plenty to love with the Howell-led "Isak's Blues No. 1" and, later on, the slightly more sprightly "Isak's Blues No. 2." "Reuben's Blues" deserves notice as well for its stop-start structure and subtle complexity. As for quicker songs featuring everyone fully getting down, where to start? "Ebeneezer," "Spike Driver's Blues," and "Angelina Baker" are three great songs out of many to explore. ~ Ned Raggett