Harvey Reid,
Fruit on the Vine
(Woodpecker, 1998)

Fruit on the Vine begins with "Macallan's Jig." It's good and it got me to remembering the evenings when my eldest daughter was taking ceili dancing at the Seattle Folklore Society's big old hall on North Lake Union. It's so well done that I think I had no choice but to listen favorably to everything that comes after it on this CD.

At the time Fruit on the Vine was recorded, Harvey Reid had been in the business of making acoustic music for 25 years, his entire adult life. Acoustic musicians with small, independent music labels must, of necessity, work very hard at their art in order to make a living. Reid does that, and it shows.

This CD is almost entirely original to Reid. The thirteen pieces that he wrote are, in a way, no less original to him than the two contemporary songs and the two traditional songs he covers in that three of the latter four are arranged by Reid alone and carry the stamp of his unmistakable insight.

"Babylon is Fallen," a traditional spiritual, is arranged by Reid and Lynn Rothermich, who also sings harmony vocals on this cut. Reid and Rothermich have been making music together for so long and love what they do so well that when they do it together, the result is genius.

Besides Rothermich, Reid is joined on this CD by his old buddies Brian Silber and Rick Watson, two musicians with whom he's shared about twenty years of performing.

Reid and Silber, on octave mandolin and violin, do up Reid's "The Great Pyramid" to a fiery turn. Made me think of Doug Kershaw. Rick Watson shows up with his keyboard only on one cut, "In Dark Winter Rejoiceth," and he knows why he's there. Watson is credited with arrangements, production, engineering mixing and mastering the four cuts done at Fishtraks in Portsmouth, N.H.

Reid's music is about as all-American as it gets. Blues, bluegrass, spirituals, Appalachian, Cajun, all stand out in his music, along with the sea and woods of northern New England where he has made his home for over 20 years. He's called a multi-instrumentalist but I'm beginning to have problems with that peg. In Reid's case, it seems superficial. He does play about as long a string of instruments as I've ever seen, but he's outstanding at each one. One doesn't call a person who has won so many awards and honors for guitar and banjo playing and for songwriting a multi-instrumentalist. It seems too tame.

My favorite vocal piece on this CD is "Silver Midnight Moon," an anthem for each of us. It describes the surprise of finding oneself ready to stand and fight instead of turning away "like we all do," "sifting through a sea of hearts to find the one that's true" and "launching a boat in a hopeful wind." Then it admonishes us to cherish "each breath of freedom we have." I like the phrasing on this one. The side comments in the lyrics are delivered similarly to the ones in "Duncan and Brady" on Reid's 1997 CD In Person and it works just as well here.

There are a couple of cuts where I felt the vocal phrasing was awkward -- but the music was outstanding. "Farewell to the Gold" is one of your basic "life's struggle" songs about the terrible price exacted of a gold miner who, in the end finds that "it's only in dreaming that I see a gleaming down in the dark deep underground." It's very cowboy-western in feel. In fact, some of the excellent guitar work kept bringing up the face of Clint Eastwood for me -- something like Fistful of Dollars or Guns for Sister Sarah. Sorry about that, I was younger then and still had a crush on Rowdy Yates.

"This Old Heart of Mine" contains the "fruit on the vine" reference and the life-sum lyrics are lovely but the phrasing is off just enough to make me impatient. It's a waltz in the purest Appalachian mode with T.S. Baker singing harmony vocals behind Reid. Gary Sredzienski's accordion is right where it should be. Brian Silber plays the waltz impeccably on the viola instead of a fiddle and Kent Allyn's electric bass is good.

There's another jig on this CD that I just love: "The Lucky Penny," with Reid solo on a six-string banjo. If you're not up dancing to this one, you need help. It's perfectly placed on this CD because the next cut is "It's a Banjo Playing (It's the Girl I Love)" with Reid solo on his 1984 Taylor guitar and vocal. Sort of Reid's version of his "Favorite Things" with lots of nice images in the lyrics and energetic guitar.

"Aragon Mill" is another life-sum piece. A textile factory in a one mill town has shut down and there are no children any more in the streets and the factory worker and her old man have no place to go and the only sound she hears is "the sound of the wind, weave and spin, weave and spin." Haunting, sad commentary on how many living wage jobs are disappearing. Again, nice, sure vocal blending with Lynn Rothermich.

The purely instrumental pieces -- "Times Gone By" with Brian Silber, "The Magnolia Promenade," "Above the Clouds," "Lindsay Road," "Lament for Abigail Curtis" again with Silber, and "The Ash Grove" -- are purely perfect. What else is there to say?

Usually, when I've reviewed a book or CD, it's gone straight into an envelope and off to a friend who runs a Books in Prison project. I'm keeping this one.

[ by J. Higgins-Rosebrook ]