Ron Thomason says "Old-timey music – it’s better than it sounds," or words to that effect. For many hard-core bluegrass fans, that’s probably true. This ancestor to bluegrass has the same acoustic sense, the same roots in dance music, even some of the same players. Bands like Dry Branch Fire Squad serve as the "missing link" between old-timey and bluegrass.
But I told you that to tell you this – Light of the Moon can be good news or bad news, depending on your point of view. It’s hard-core, unvarnished old-timey music. Most of the tunes are either unaccompanied instrumentals or vocals with a single instrument. It’s got the infectious rhythms and frailing banjo so typical of old square dance tune. It’s got fiddle tunes like June Apple in the best midwestern fiddle contest tradition and old-timey, open-back banjo, including a pretty, low-key reading of Lynn Morris’s Old Rip. It’s got rough and scratchy vocals. It’s got the requisite share of familiar tunes like Cindy and Buffalo Gals, All God’s Critters and The Fox. Levenson has put together a travelling music show for us – all it needs is the someone to sell you some home remedies and elixirs to complete the picture.
My preference is for the banjo tunes, rather than the fiddle tunes. Levenson’s intonation on the fiddle is a bit too close to the edge of tuning for my taste, but his banjo is clean, soft and warm. It’s about as different from bluegrass banjo as it can be, and lovely on its own terms.
Dan Levenson has steeped himself in the traditional sound and pulls it off accurately. He’s no pretender – he sounds like the real deal. If you want a taste of the individual side of traditional music, Light of the Moon is worth a listen.