Midwestern Harvest is an impressive collection of twenty-six fiddle tunes, collected predominantly from fiddle players and old-timey bands in the Midwestern US. There's a long history of traditional fiddle and dance music in this area, though it's not as widely known or recorded as its counterpart from the Appalachians. It deserves more attention, and Smith's recording does it great justice.
Smith's fiddle playing is sprightly and energetic, with a keen sense of timing and intonation. He's put a broad range of instrumentation behind the tunes, from solo fiddle with a simple guitar backup to the full old-timey band treatment, complete with twin fiddles, banjo and rollicking piano. The result is a collection with a lot of material which avoids repetition and staleness.
No single song stands out from the rest in this collection, though my personal favorites are the ones with the full string-band sound. If you have a pulse, Calico Corn will have your feet moving. The rolling piano, in place of a bass, pushes the rhythm along and the twin fiddles give a rich, full feel to the sound. If you've ever spent an evening square dancing to a live band, you'll feel like you're back there again when you hear Kansas Quickstep. In spite of the smelly title,Limburger Cheese is a nicely paced waltz, neither dragging nor rushed. Smith adds a mandolin to The Battle of Brewerville to double the melody, and it gives the song a nice, clean feel.
The liner notes include a brief description with each song, giving some background on the performance and history. In the 1970s, Smith and friends combed the backroads of Illinois, seeking out older musicians and the music they'd developed over the years. I know of efforts about the same time in Pennsylvania by Matthew Guntharp and Bob Doyle. In both cases, the result was the preservation of the pure regional sound that developed before the dilution and merging of styles resulting from the influence of mass media. We're all richer for their efforts. These are timeless tunes and styles - the very foundation of the music we know and love today. Midwestern Harvest is worth adding to your collection.