Dubl Handi,
Up Like the Clouds
(independent, 2012)

Pronounced "Double Handy," Dubl Handi gets its name from a long-gone washboard company, probably a nod to the percussive elements the band brings to old-time music. Up Like the Clouds was recorded in a Brooklyn studio, which may seem an unlikely place to cut traditional mountain songs. But maybe not; Brooklyn these days is home to a revival where the focus is on actual, as opposed to singer-songwriter, folk, and Dubl Handi is in the middle of that happy movement.

It comprises the duo Brian Geltner and Hilary Hawke, plus four friends who fill out the sound on this eminently amiable recording. There are 15 cuts, three of them Hawke's originals so tradition-soaked that they rub shoulders comfortably with the hoary likes of "New River Train," "Cluck Old Hen" and "Poor Ellen Smith." (Her "Little Orchid" is a particular marvel in this regard.) Hawke sings and plays banjo in a style somewhere between clawhammer and bluegrass (though this is not a bluegrass album), while Geltner handles a lot of instruments you wouldn't hear on just about any other old-time outing: percussion of various kinds, mellotron, electric guitar and more.

Except for the originals, I first heard all of these songs many long years ago. At this stage of my life, I've probably demonstrated that I'm incapable of tiring of them, so no doubt I would have enjoyed them if they had been done straightforwardly. The more I listened to Clouds, however, the more enchanted I grew with what Dubl Handi does with them. Here is a sublime merger of the traditional and the innovative. Hawke offers arresting vocals, Geltner delivers captivating percussion, and between them musical boundaries fade away. Even better, you barely notice.

None of this is terribly fancy, mind you, but it is invariably well considered and joyous. It's a testament both to traditional song's enduring charm and to the uses to which gifted, creative performers can put it while keeping its essence alive and celebrating.

music review by
Jerome Clark

16 March 2013

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