Irish Music Magazine (CD review; Sean Laffey, reviewer)
From Ulster To Appalachia
Emerald Heel Music, 14 Tracks
Mike Ferry's liner notes for this CD are brief and to the point, asking the key question who were the Scots-Irish? He answers; they were Protestant dissenters from the North of Ireland who landed in Philadelphia in the 18th century and headed south, many settling in his own home state of North Carolina; they brought with them an independent spirit, a work ethic and fiddle music.
The musical aesthetic of those early settlers permeates much of this album, from tunes such as Ducks on the Pond (a breakdown, first appearing in print in Virginia Reels, volume III Baltimore, 1839), Icy Mountain (a popular breakdown attributed to the West Virginian fiddler Frank Santy) and Soldier's Joy with an electronic didgeridoo calling the fiddle to action. These are dovetailed with tunes that we'd associate with the native Catholic Irish, who made the trans-Atlantic journey in their hundreds of thousands in the half century after the famine. Mike includes the Donegal tune King of the Pipers and the much more modern Killavil Reel. As Mike can trace three of his grandparents to Donegal and the other to Cork, inclusion of those tunes adds a personal dimension to his album.
The tunes themselves are played on the fiddle in a straightforward style, reminiscent of the Contra-dance tradition of the Eastern USA, Mike adding presence to the tracks, giving them an ethereal quality. The big surprise is Mike's choice of accompaniment. He backs himself on electronic keyboards and percussion, with an emphasis on a very strong and deliberate rhythm; drumbeats and washes of harmony populate the majority of the tunes. This gives both a modern twist on old dance music and anchors the melodies in a style that is not as loose-limbed as we would associate with a century of Irish music since Michael Coleman. For me the standout track is the Scottish slow march The Mist Covered Mountains of Home, it is said to have been played at the funeral of King George VI and certainly was at the funeral of John F. Kennedy. The album closes with two tunes spanning the time shift from the present back to the 1790s: Tommy Peoples' Reel and The Devil's Dream.
Appalachia has a long and impressive history of fiddle music and this album is another page in its continuing evolution.