Song Keepers IV: This Old House: Eclectic Folk

By James Calemine
“Love, I find, is like singing.” Zora Neale Hurston

In celebration of Music Maker Foundation’s 30th anniversary Song Keepers: A Music Maker Anthology was released on February 16, 2024. Song Keepers delivers timeless photographs by Tim Duffy, soulful stories by the esteemed Georgann Eubanks and a box set of 86 songs by Music Maker artists. These recordings have been masterfully curated and thoughtfully arranged to highlight and explore four facets of American roots music: Acoustic Blues, Electric Blues, Sacred Soul and Gospel, and Eclectic Folk. Song Keepers includes liner notes for each album that delightfully illuminate the music and the artists with accessible musicology and profiles.

On Disc Four, This Old House: Eclectic Folk, we travel deep into an acoustic wilderness for the last stop on this unforgettable Music Maker Anthology. Cary Morin’s “You Were There with Me” showcases his brilliant fingerstyle guitar talent. Morin, a Tuscarora and Taino singer-songwriter, has raised the profile of Indigenous music through his worldwide performances.

Spencer Branch, comprised of siblings Kilby and Martha Spencer, and North Carolina native Kelley Breiding, emit amazing harmonies on “Blown Back with the Breeze”. The Spencers’ parents–Thornton and Emily –played in the Whitetop Mountain Band.

Tim Duffy accompanies Big Ron Hunter on guitar for the folk number “Going for Myself”. Big Ron grew up in a log cabin in the Winston-Salem woods. A Vietnam vet, Hunter traveled with MMF across Europe.

Big Ron Hunter. Hillsborough, NC, 2015. Timothy Duffy.

Paul Geramia spent time with Son House and Howlin’ Wolf to learn guitar licks. Geramia’s “Rising River Blues” sounds like a cowboy playing around a campfire at night after a long day’s ride.

“Fiddler a Dram”, by the musical rebels Nee Ningy Band harkens an Incredible String Band vibe. This group incorporates traditional Irish, Cajun, Eastern European, blues, old-time and country tunes.

Before the Carolina Chocolate Drops took the music world by storm, they joined MMF. “Cornbread and Butterbeans” finds them mining the fertile territory of African and mountain roots music. Benton Flippen’s “Cumberland Gap” is a quicksilver fiddle-driven instrumental accompanied by guitar and banjo that must be played countless times.

Dom Flemons’ “Marching Up to Prospect Hill” exists as a soulful, earthy tune. Flemons accompanies Sam Frazier Jr. on “Cabbage Man.” Frazier held a regular spot on a country music show out of Birmingham, Alabama, for many years.

“Oreo Cookie Blues” by Jeffrey Scott is a clever and nimble composition. Scott began playing instruments at six. He’s worked as a cattleman, hog farmer, mortician and truck driver. He also performed at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C following the release of his 2023 MMF album.

Georgia bluesman Neal Pattman blows harmonica on “Shortnin’ Bread” with Taj Mahal playing banjo. It sounds like they just got back from a fishing trip and are jamming on a friend’s porch.
Samuel Turner Stevens’s “Cluck Old Hen” personifies the spirit of Harry Smith’s “old, weird America”. Tim Duffy met Stevens–a skilled maker of stringed instruments–in 1981.

Pura Fe’s “Della Blackman” proves why she is a sheer musical force. She’s long been a global activist for Indigenous rights. “Della Blackman” ranks as one of this collection’s strongest recordings. Two-time Grammy winner and MacArthur grant recipient Rhiannon Giddens makes “Cripple Creek” shine like a new dime.

Carl Rutherford’s train song “Shasta Daylight” evokes a salt of the earth sound that might be heard in some lonesome West Virginia enclave.

Willie French Lowery’s “This Old House” is an emotional tune from Lowery’s vast catalog of over 500 songs. Lowery has worked for years to raise the profile of North Carolina’s longest Indigenous tribe that has yet to receive federal recognition.

The Deer Clan Singers deliver an amazing piece of American music on “Pigeon Dance” thanks to MMF. This group keeps the songs of the Tuscarora people alive and teaches young, native members old musical traditions.

Eclectic Folk ends with Guitar Gabriel’s “The Story of Old Man Rivers”, which is “a wistful nod to old age, to old times, and to the eternal ebb and flow of the river, the music and its makers.”

Pura Fé Cresioni. Hillsborough, NC, 2014. Timothy Duffy.