Hog-Eyed Man,
(Yodel-Ay-Hee, 2016)

Well, so here we are, present at the third coming of Hog-Eyed Man (previously encountered in this space on 28 February 2015 and 13 February 2016), and the quality has yet to stumble on a single (metaphorical) stubbed toe. To the contrary, it continues to feel rather intimidating, in the way extraordinarily conceived and executed music can creep up and scare you. It's penetrating places of the heart to which mere ordinarily good music doesn't get close.

Hog-Eyed Man consists of two Georgians, fiddler/banjoist Jason Cade and multi-stringed instrumentalist Rob McMaken, who are at once immensely informed students of traditional Appalachian music and supremely able carriers of that tradition. Theirs are what some call the ancient tones (a phrase I associate with Bill Monroe, who may or may not have invented it). Not even the novice listener is likely to mistake what emerges from their instruments as bluegrass or country. To the contrary, this is the mountain music of a century ago and decades more, from an electricity-free era when no phonograph records preserved the sound.

These tunes and playing styles can only be recovered from old fiddlers who learned from older fiddlers who learned ... well, melodies and interpretations carried hand to hand, voice to voice, surviving under their own power and living on because those who knew them believed they were worth keeping around. That they continue to speak to us seems, in an era when virtually everything is designed to be disposable, something akin to a miracle. There is indeed something sacred about traditional music, as if it dwells in some separate, invisible sphere untouched by time and age, allowing us to enter it if we have the wisdom to seek it out. It's hard to conceive, though it's perfectly true, that if you were born in a certain geography and in another generation, that music would have been all around you. You could even have taken it for granted.

On 3 the Hog-Eyes are joined here and there by two highly regarded oldtime masters, John Grimm and Beverly Smith. The lineup comprises the generous number of cuts (16 here) for which the Hog-Eyes are appreciated. A few titles will be known to those who follow these things: "Shady Grove," "Bile Them Cabbage Down," "Old Hen She Cackled" and -- yes -- "Hog-Eyed Man," but not in the standard versions. Not everything is solely instrumental. Some of the tunes feature singing, if not in the ballad sense; voices, rather -- even with lyrics as opposed to vocal effects -- as yet another instrument. The tunes come mostly from the Blue Ridge region (western North Carolina, north Georgia, east Tennessee) and eastern Kentucky.

The music is infused with an atmospheric and emotional richness of the sort that happens only when art and artist are in perfect alignment. There are other, entirely legitimate ways to present this music, of course. Still, something transcendent happens when Cade and McMaken get together to channel the ghosts of another age.

music review by
Jerome Clark

25 March 2017

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