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IBMA

Art Stamper - Wake up Darlin’ Corey (CD, 2004)

by Jerome Clark, 07/18/2005

Art Stamper

Art Stamper, who died at 71 this past January, lived long enough to take his fiddle from the pure mountain-music roots of his native Hindman, Kentucky, into the bluegrass music genre that would evolve from it, to blossom in the years and decades after World War II. He played with the finest: the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, the Osborne Brothers, the Goins Brothers. His approach stressed feeling, not flashiness, bending notes in a way that gave an almost spoken quality to his playing.

For his last recording, released on the always admirable County label just weeks before his death, Stamper approached two old, trusted friends, guitarist Doc Hamilton and banjoist Harry Bickel, and with them returned to the sounds of his youth: Kentucky fiddle tunes like “Duck River” and “Rose in the Mountain” and ballads and lyric songs of an age that survives only in the astonishing music, anchored in British and Irish traditions, that it reshaped and carried on.

Tim O’Brien, singing better than I’ve ever heard him, takes the vocals, turning in a wrenching performance of the venerable “Moonshiner” and a bracingly hard-hitting “Train Forty Five.” “Old Arkansas” is the darkly comic fable known in other variants as “My Name Is John Johanna” and “The State of Arkansas.” The Civil War-era “Lorena” movingly recalls the late, still-missed John Hartford, whose signature song it was. “Little Birdie” boasts a nonsense refrain absent from the familiar version known from Ralph Stanley’s deep-mountain repertoire. Another highlight, “Sweet Dixie,” was in its first incarnation a bluegrass instrumental from Bill Emerson, here devolved – the movement usually being in the opposite direction -- into a delightfully melodic old-time piece.

With this recording, with the assistance of sympathetic and able allies, Art Stamper went out on a grace note. Lots of them.