Molsky's Mountain Drifters - 23rd November 2017

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There’s a current and very welcome trend for small batch brewing of craft beers which are matured in oak barrels that have previously contained bourbon whisky. The result is often a strong (sometimes 10%) imperial stout beer with plenty of body and loads of taste which leaves the drinker with a satisfied feel and the knowledge that they have imbibed something special. This type of beer demands sipping and savouring, not walloping back in ridiculous amounts.

 

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And so it is spending an evening listening to Molsky’s Mountain Drifters - Bruce Molsky (fiddle), Allison de Groot (clawhammer banjo) and Stash Wyslouch (guitar and the man with probably the greatest name in any form of music). Their music is well-seasoned, honest, refreshing and not contaminated by gimmickry, froth or fluff. Bruce has been to Baston before, in October 2015, with Ali Bain and Ale Möller. This time he is ably assisted by Allison and Stash both of whom are accomplished musicians in their own right, Stash with The Deadly Gentlemen and Allison with the multinational band The Goodbye Girls.

I love their simplicity – the trio has no need to hide behind a mass of wires and loads of mic stands. What we have here are just individual microphones to pick up each instrument and a single static Ear Trumpet mic that stands proudly centre stage as if waiting for the vocals of Jimmy Rogers, Hank Williams or the New Lost City Ramblers. (Incidentally a nod must go here to Tom Paley, one of the original NLCR who died in September and whose son Ben played at Baston back in 2014 as part of the Long Hill Ramblers).

Bruce is clearly a man who seeks out and soaks up influences and is not afraid to demonstrate it. He approaches the music with academic zeal (he is a visiting scholar at Berklee College of Music) and appreciates music’s past, present and where it may be heading in the future. This is no more evident than on a set of tunes that he describes as having started out in Strathspey, became Graf Spee and ended up as Grand Spire. Music as Chinese whispers! It is no accident that he has contributed to the legendary Transatlantic Sessions, such is his commitment to tunes and songs from both side of the pond. Bruce’s flying fiddle playing is of the highest order, expert yet apparently effortless. Allison’s clawhammer banjo bubbles along as a one-woman babbling brook rhythm section while Stash dazzles on guitar without ever being over-showy. In short the three group members fit together perfectly.

Many of the tunes played tonight are from their eponymous album – The Flowers of Edinburgh and Across the Plains of Illinois to name but a couple. And then there was perhaps the biggest surprise of the night, a cover of Billy Bragg’s Between The Wars, a timeless song of war and peace and the ‘A’ word (austerity) – still relevant and topical! On a couple of occasions during the sets Bruce has the stage to himself and plays songs including on Train On The Island and the real earworm Lazy John. We even have a nod to the impending season - Breaking Up Christmas.

During the encore a plucky member of the audience rushed to the edge of the stage and joined in with a step dance. Crikey – whatever next at Baston - crowd surfing?

Bruce and his chums are clearly lovely people with a relaxed yet thoroughly professional approach. From Baston they’re travelling on to Bristol, then to Ireland, back to the USA and on to Australia in the New Year. The world is their oyster and we were truly lucky that they stopped off at little old Baston for a pearl of a performance.