Snyder Family Band,
Building Bridges
(Mountain Roads, 2013)

Building Bridges is the Snyder Family's third CD on the Mountain Roads label. (I reviewed the others here on 6 June 2010 and 31 December 2011.) As on every one of their recordings, here color, spirit and joy spring up from the strings. Perhaps you will need to know that the Lexington, N.C.-based Snyders recorded their first album when guitarist Zebulon -- there's a grand Old Testament name for you -- was 14 and fiddler Samantha was 10. Though the singing betrayed their youth, their instrumental prowess transcended their years. (Their father Bud, on acoustic bass, is the third member of the band, and their mother Laine is an occasional vocal presence.) It felt downright disconcerting to hear such graceful playing when one knew it was coming from, not to put too fine a point on it, children.

Zeb and Samantha are still, as the old ballad says, young and daily growing. Bridges continues and builds on the sound at which they have excelled. It is Southern, acoustic, stringed and rooted, but it is not bluegrass. No banjo is to be found or heard, and the styles range over several genres, among them Western swing and jazz, not to mention gospel, pop and folk. The slide-guitar tour de force "Blue Bottle Blues," a cut that will fly out of the speakers at you, suggests that Zeb must be learning at least one portion of his craft from Leo Kottke. Elsewhere, the influences of Doc Watson and Chet Atkins, in each case fully absorbed, are evident in Zeb's picking. His song "Smoky Mountain Railway" could be a Watson tribute. One wishes Doc were around to cover it himself. Bridges' dozen cuts are both original and clunker-free.

How can performers this young sound this good? The only possible answer is no answer at all: it's the mystery of innate talent, though one does not doubt that the Snyders combine that with a lot of scrupulous practice and hard work.

As it should, maturity and experience -- still relative given their still-tender ages -- expand and deepen their music with each successive recorded outing. Perhaps Bridges is the first that one can hear without being pestered by stray thoughts of their youth. Not that, judged solely from their merits, they were ever really a novelty act. Bridges does feel like more than one step onward, however. It's smart, tuneful, at moments -- especially in the instrumentals -- downright exhilarating. Is this scary or what?

music review by
Jerome Clark

13 July 2013

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