Snyder Family Band,
(Mountain Roads, 2011)

The Snyder Family Band, based in Lexington, N.C., comes out of the venerable institution of performing musical families. The first such to achieve fame in America, the Hutchinson Family, sang temperance and anti-slavery anthems in the mid-19th century. If the term had existed then, the Hutchinsons would have been called pop stars. Historians of early recorded country music honor such revered and influential family ensembles as the Carters and the Stonemans.

Out of that broad tradition, the Snyders do some singing, but mostly they're here for the picking. Seven of the 13 cuts are instrumentals, and it's here that this gifted family shines. The Snyders are parents Bud and Laine and children Zeb (16 at the time of recording), Samantha (12), and -- on the last cut -- Owen (5). There is nothing wrong with the singing, though the voices of the younger Snyders are still young and finding their way. Samantha's fiddling and Zeb's flat-picking are startlingly mature, however. Hearing the instrumentals (e.g., the especially lovely "I am a Pilgrim") without knowing anything about who was responsible for them, few listeners would be able to detect that the players are, well, kids.

Their first album, Comin' on Strong (which I reviewed in this space on 12 June 2010), was better than anybody had a right to expect. Stages, as the title implies even as it evokes images of performance stages, captures the Snyders at their next stage of growth, not so much a radical departure as a satisfying deepening of their sound. Though they work the bluegrass circuit, theirs is no bluegrass act. To start with, there's no banjo, and for another, there are no bluegrass harmonies or rhythms. One does hear the influence of neo-trad folk artists like Doc Watson, Norman Blake and the late John Hartford. Here and there, elements of Irish music bubble to the surface.

The Snyders are focused, most of all, on melody and tone. They're unmistakably a contemporary band, but also a charmingly old-fashioned one, using the venerable acoustic stringband template to improvise on traditional (or tradition-like) tunes and themes while bringing them forward into our time. You could say the Snyder Family Band is a work in progress, but even if true, that gives them insufficient credit. At every stage along the way, the act feels surprisingly formed and always worth seeking out. Since Stages presumably isn't the family's last, one anticipates happily what is to come.

music review by
Jerome Clark

31 December 2011

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