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The fiddle reviews database is here to help educate people before they purchase an instrument. Of course, this is not meant to be a substitute for playing the instrument yourself!

214 reviews in the archive.

Ken and Brad Kolodner: Skipping Rocks

Submitted by hayesdt (see all reviews from this person) on 6/8/2014

Where Purchased: Online

Overall Comments

Many fans have been aware for some time that Ken and Brad Kolodner were planning to release a second Traditional album, but they could not have anticipated that a second album could possibly surpass their previous collaboration, "Otter Creek." That first album was exceptional and had the distinction of being one of the most highly regarded and played instrumental folk albums during the year following its release. "Skipping Rocks," however, actually exceeds their first effort.

The musicianship on this album is absolutely incredible. Ken Kolodner is one of the finest, most able, and diverse hammered dulcimer players anywhere. There are about four or five other talented players who are really outstanding also, but in many ways his work surpasses theirs. His arrangements are always unusual and truly outstanding, his technique is precise and unmistakable in its sound, and he knows how to use a vastly underutilized and neglected acoustic instrument -- the hammered dulcimer -- to complement rather than detract from Old Time Traditional Music. Ken's distinct hammered dulcimer rhythms on tracks such as “The Orchard” and "Billy In the Lowground" (reminiscent of the same rhythms used with "Otter Creek" on the Kolodners' first album) authoritatively confirm the driving elements of many of their tunes. What many hammered dulcimer fans don't realize, however, is just how good his Old Time fiddle playing is (fiddle was and is his first instrument, well before hammered dulcimer). Admittedly, there are many more excellent fiddlers than hammered dulcimer players around, but Ken's Old Time fiddling is exceptional in that he is perhaps the best -- the absolute best – when it comes to emphasizing and maintaining that strong accent on a tune’s back/offbeat; one can always recognize his fiddle playing because of that. On this new album, his hammered dulcimer versatility is best revealed on the tunes "John Brown's March" and "Grub Springs," which are different versions than listeners have ever before heard; the tunes contain luscious arrangements and playing. And his (and Brad’s!) fiddling on "Lost Indian" is so powerful that even a knowledgeable Old Time Music listener can became confused and lose track of whether there really is any difference between "Lost Indian" and "Cherokee Shuffle," or whether it even matters!

Ken’s son Brad Kolodner is simply one of the best of the new generation of Old Time melodic Clawhammer banjo players. Recently he was selected as a winner in a national Clawhammer competition -- that featured 60 or 70 other capable players -- with his rendition of the tune "Boatman," a tune that's also featured on this new album, along with his Dad Ken's fiddle playing on the tune. But it is with his original compositions, such as "Skipping Rocks," that he most shines. Like many outstanding Old Time and Traditional musicians, he realizes full well that often it is that one simple, characteristic feature within a composed tune that differentiates it from all the others (such as an unusual measure or standout note in a given crooked Old Time tune]. Brad cleverly incorporates that distinctive feature into his composition "Skipping Rocks," where it's that unusual sixth-minor chord moving down to a five-chord that really makes the tune. Also, his Clawhammer technique is always clean on every tune. His growing up in such a musical household as well as his spending his college years around a number of exemplary Ithaca, NY, Old Time musicians -- as well as his own talent -- had to ensure that he would become an outstanding Clawhammer banjo and fiddle player (yes, he plays outstanding fiddle on the album too). With this second album, Brad sings as well on "Down On My Knees" (again with Ken's solid fiddle backup) and performs the best vocal rendition of "Red Rocking Chair" that many listeners will have ever heard; it's his quiet, lamenting version that makes it the genuinely sad song that it is on this album.

To have a “backup guitar player” of the caliber of Robin Bullock [of his own solo instrumental as well as Helicon fame] helping out adds to this album's uniqueness. His use of what experienced guitar players will recognize by sound to be Drop D tuning on "Lost Indian" really adds a powerful element to the tune and again helps make the version memorable.  Bullock’s chord progressions and voicings provide an additional and welcome modern dimension to the Kolodners’ Old (and new) Time Traditional sound.  Musician Alex Lacquement’s Traditional and Bowed Bass contributions are outstanding as well, as is the supporting work of background vocalist Kagey Parrish (of the Honey Dewdrops) and Scottish Fiddling Champion Elke Baker.

In addition to a number of “new Old Time” banjo and dulcimer compositions, such as the album title track, fans of Old Time music will enjoy this album for the renditions of a number of great Traditional tunes and songs, including the driving, forceful (and "Otter Creek-like and sounding") "Billy In the Lowground," "Falls of Richmond," "Reuben's Train," and a medley containing “Tombigbee Waltz.”  Listeners will also appreciate the outstanding technical qualities of the recording itself and the capturing of a crispness of sound that even makes Brad Kolodner’s banjo “clucks” audible.

All in all, this is one of the best "Old and New" Traditional Appalachian albums released since "Otter Creek" caught the ear of listeners just over three years ago. And it still will touch music fans everywhere  that a father and son not only can make music that sounds so good, but that they so obviously enjoy making such great music with each other and their music friends.

Overall Rating: 10

Halle Ford: Pretty Girl (single)

Submitted by halleford (see all reviews from this person) on 12/25/2010

Where Purchased: iTunes

Overall Comments

Violinist, Singer, Songwriter Halle Ford has released the title track "Pretty Girl" from her upcoming debut album (also entitled Pretty Girl).

The teaser track unexpectedly combines Norwegian-inspired fiddling with an infectious pop song chorus and a romping beat. You can listen to and purchase this track directly from Halle's store, iTunes, Amazon Mp3, or nearly anywhere else world-wide digital music is sold.

Overall Rating: 10

Casey Joe Abair & Hunter Robertson: If You Want To Sleep, Go To Bed

Submitted by oldwoodchuckb (see all reviews from this person) on 10/12/2009

Where Purchased: From Artist

Overall Comments

“If You Want To Go To Sleep, Go To Bed”. Is the title of the new cd by banjoist Hunter Robertson and fiddler Casey Joe Abair. And it is obviously a work that involved a lot of late nights for a long time before any recording equipment was ever set up. When the players know each other well, and have put in many hours together, fiddle and banjo duets can catch fire, producing an event that is more than the sum of the two instruments. Abiar and Robertson obviously know each other well and know how to throw ideas back and forth in a way that brings the listener a new insight into the music. If that all sounds a bit “classical”, well perhaps it is. The banjo fiddle combination is does not have the full sound of a string band, it is more like a chamber group, where the communication between instruments and players is more important than a full group sound. Listeners can really hear the two instruments because they differ in range, timbre, attack, sustain, and so many other ways. It is almost as if the fiddle and banjo go so well together because they have so little in common.

Banjo and fiddle is also one of the most exacting and dangerous combinations to record. Unlike a full band, fiddle and banjo will not cover mistakes for each other. Each player is fully responsible for every note he produces. This is not music for players who need the safety net of guitar and bass.

The selection of tunes is heavily weighted toward the old tunes played with the fire and enthusiasm they really deserve but seldom get these days, but there are some less common tunes that work beautifully in the duet setting. their “The Devil’s Dream” is from Hobart Smith and very different than the one I play. It is actually considerably more “band” friendly and the tune is closer to John Brown’s Dream.

“Fort Smith Breakdown” doesn’t show up on many jam lists but is a super tune from a 1920s recording by Luke Highnight’s Ozark Strutters. Here Robertson is playing a fretless Harmony ResoTone in Old G (gDGDE) tuning. “Run Slave Run” uses the same tuning and probably the same banjo.

“Hog Eye Man” aka “Sally In The Garden” is frequently played crooked, but Abair and Thompson seem to have found a whole new crooked way to do it. I’m going to try it out, but I won’t attempt to show it to my jam groups.

Some of the selections are great “trance” tunes where the two instruments seem to float around the melody passing it back and forth until you feel it has been the background music to your entire life. I was very surprised to read that “Tater Patch” and “Sandy River Belle” were each only about four minutes, as was their rendition of “Sail Away Ladies”

The album is Yodel-Ay-Hee number 74, and you can order it direct from Hunter Robertson’s website:
where you can also watch videos of Abair and Robertson, and even buy a copy of Robertson's solo album “Hunter Robertson Sings Songs For The Masses.”

Overall Rating: 9

Hyram Posey: "High Octane"

Submitted by Hyramposey (see all reviews from this person) on 6/6/2009

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

Overall Rating: 10

Craig Evans : Frailin' with Friends

Submitted by Joanchek (see all reviews from this person) on 3/19/2009

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

Overall Rating: 10

Craig Evans : Frailin' with Friends

Submitted by Joanchek (see all reviews from this person) on 3/19/2009

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

Frailin’ with Friends
Rootbass Records
Reviewed 3/19/2009 by Joan Radell

We often refer to a “circle of friends.” And circle is the perfect metaphor. It only takes two people to start that circle, and as we journey through life we make our circle bigger one person at a time. When times are tough, we pull that circle close for the support we need. And in happy times, our circle expands exponentially as we share our joy. A circle of friends is an ever-changing, living thing that breathes love.

Craig “Frailin’” Evans, well known in old-time music circles for his lyrical banjo style, is one of those folks whose circle just keeps getting better and stronger every day. Craig has gathered a circle of his musical friends to compile a collection of songs that conveys just how he feels about life. His amazing banjo is the musical thread that ties each musician and each song together.

Frailin’ with Friends was produced for a special group of Craig’s friends--the online community at Autism spectrum disorder is a catch-all term for a wide variety of brain-development disorders. Families touched by autism face special challenges every day, and the support and empathy they can give and receive at the Autism Hangout makes life a little easier. Craig opened his circle to include those with autism, their families, friends, and caregivers, and is using the proceeds of the sale of the album to benefit this online community.

Frailin’ is a busy guy. He plays regularly with his two bands, Singleton Street and The Eelpout Stringers. Both bands and their widely differing styles are well represented here. Singleton Street is a quartet featuring Sherri and Chuck Leyda and Jimmy Newkirk that favors upbeat old-time gospel tunes. Their tight harmony, exceptional instrumentals and grinning delivery is quintessentially happy music. Of the four Singleton Street tunes on the album, the standout is “Red Clay Halo.” It is simply impossible to listen to this bubbly arrangement of Gillian Welch’s tune without tapping at least one toe. With voices that blend effortlessly in classic 4-part harmony without a trace of muddiness, “Angel Band” is a rich treatment of the 1860’s era gospel standard. And the revival-style “Get in Line Brother” is a hand-clapping ripsnort of a ride.

Craig’s exuberant clawhammer banjo fronts the Eelpout Stringers. Loyd Mitchell, Karl Burke and Nick Rowse fill out this quartet. The band takes their name from the Eelpout Festival, held annually on frozen Leech Lake in Walker, Minnesota. After entertaining the cold crowd with their fish-kissing antics, the foursome has been known to sing for their supper--busking a few tunes in exchange for a welcome hot meal and cold glass. The Stringers are masters of old-time standards and appear four times on the album. Their straightforward arrangements highlight the influence of ancient Celtic musical themes on traditional Appalachian-roots music. But Craig’s musical circle encompasses more than classic old-time-genre foursomes.

The precise bass and rippling guitar of renaissance man David Tousley weaves through more than a few songs on Frailin’ with Friends. Whether counter-pointing a fresh, plaintive duet arrangement of the ancient tune “Greensleeves” on guitar, or providing a strong thump of foundation for the camp-song handclapper “I’ve Got Two Hands,” David is a versatile musician who understands the complexity of frailed banjo. His delicate, sparkling guitar enhances but never overpowers. (Beyond his performance talent, Tousley also mixed and mastered the album.) The album’s show stealer, however, is Debbie Sorenson-Boeh. She’s a master fiddler and evocative vocalist. With a controlled hand and light touch on the bow, Debbie has found the Holy Grail of violin: a timbre and tone that parallels that of the human voice. Debbie started playing the violin at the tender age of 11, and trained in classical performance. After a decade’s break to raise her family, Debbie again picked up her violin and took a bluegrass path. She discovered that traditional roots music allowed her to connect with an audience in the way she wanted to. “The thing I love most is cutting to the core of a song/feeling/story,” Debbie says. “I don't like a lot of fancy stuff - I want something honest and unique.” Honest and unique perfectly describes Debbie’s stellar vocals on “A Mother’s Dying Words to Her Daughter.” Although the song title seems bleak for an album about the joys of friendship, Debbie’s soaring, true alto raises this 1920’s tune from maudlin to masterpiece. Reminiscent of American folk-music icons Hazel Dickens, Maybelle Carter, and yes, Joan Baez, Debbie’s vocal performances exemplify old-time music while redefining it in a modern, relevant way.

Rounding out “Frailin’ with Friends” are two tracks featuring Craig and his “festival friends.” These impromptu, live recordings took place under a rain tarp in a field in central Minnesota (it was a June festival jam), and embody all that is great about old-time traditional music. Fiddler Debbie Sorensen-Boeh, award-winning autoharpist Karen Mueller, singer/songwriter/guitarist Geoff Shannon and bassist Terry Sullivan join Craig in rousing renditions of “Soldier’s Joy,” a tune that dates at least as far back as the Civil War, and the old-time standard “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss.” The exuberance of al fresco jamming, artfully pre-mastered by Geoff Shannon, shines through these two songs.

Frailin’ with Friends ends with a solo by our Frailin’ friend himself. Craig plays “Raising Arizona,” a composition that begins with the theme from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, better known as “Ode to Joy.” The song drifts into the Sons of the Pioneers “Way Out There”… an ethereal melody, set off by a wordless descant that brings to mind cowboys and vivid sunsets. Is Frailin’s high lonesome cry a yodel? A prayer? A whoop of joy? Perhaps it’s a call to music-lovers near and far, young and old, to join hands and form a circle: a circle of friends.

This happy album is available for purchase at All proceeds from the album’s sale will benefit the Autism Hangout. For more information on the musicians featured on “Frailin’ with Friends,” check the following websites:

Craig Evans:
Singleton Street:
The Eelpout Stringers:
Debbie Sorensen-Boeh:
David Tousley and Marty Marrone:
Geoff Shannon:
Karen Mueller:

Joan Radell is a music lover who follows the bluegrass and old-time music scene from a lovely perch high in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. Contact her at

Overall Rating: 10

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