The Best Records of 2005
Tribal drones, lush Britrock, and cartoon monkey bands beguiled our critics this year.
By Eric K. Arnold, Duck Baker, David Downs, Justin Farrar, Rob Harvilla, Larry Kelp, Mark Keresman and Rachel Swan
East Bay Express [Emeryville, California], Nov. 23, 2005
Alan Jabbour & Ken Perlman
Southern Summits: 21 Duets for Fiddle and Banjo

Fiddler Alan Jabbour has been a force in old-time Appalachian music since the '60s, while banjoist Ken Perlman began his career the following
decade; nonetheless, this may be the best record either has made, one of a tiny subset of records devoted to fiddle-banjo duo playing. More
importantly, it's great listening. (Reviewer Duck Baker)
[Review by John Adams in English Dance & Song, Autumn 2005]

Southern Summits: 21 Duets for Fiddle and Banjo, Alan Jabbour and Ken Perlman, own label, no catalogue number

[Review by John Adams in English Dance & Song, Autumn 2005]


Having seen Ken Perlman on tour I knew what to expect - ace banjo playing - but Alan Jabbour existed only as a name, associated in my mind with the third star of this CD, Mr Henry Reed of Glen Lyn, South-west Virginia. Now retired Jabbour has more time to play the fiddle and thank heaven, because this CD is southern fiddle at its best. Perlman has been exploiting music from the north-eastern US and Canada but here returns to where he started - the Appalachians. Together they not only make a glorious noise but impart that special feel of something older - but still alive and very much kicking! Consider 'The British Field March'. Jabbour learned this from Henry Reed who in turn learned it from Quince Dillion who was a boy fifer in the American Civil War. If the playing style has survived, for us to be able to hear it only two 'learnings' away from that period of history is quite remarkable. Apart from that, it's a tune that creeps into your brain as a 'maggot'.

Henry Reed provides the tunes to thirteen of the twenty-one sets on the CD. His 'Chapel Hill Serenade' (otherwise known as 'New Rigged Ship') morphs into 'Green Willis', a duple version of the same tune -1 learned 'Green Willis' years ago and never made the connection! Jabbour's other tune sources include Edden and Burl Hammons, Archie Stewart, Ross Miller, Gene and James Reed, Vaughan Marley and the wonderful Taylor Kimble, previously heard with Stella Kimble on the Trailer album Blue Ridge Mountain Field Trip.

Although several titles are familiar, there's nothing 'standard' about the tunes or the playing. Jabbour and Perlman together play as if controlled by two halves of the same brain. It's a wonderfully subtle performance displaying an effortless mastery that comes from a lifetime of living with the material and the source players. If you like southern American music, this could be a Desert Island Disc!

John Adams



[Bluegrass Unlimited, September 2005 Issue]

No Label, No Number (Dr. Alan Jabbour, 3107 Cathedral Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008.)SAG

Alan Jabbour’s fiddle and Ken Perlman’s banjo have both been familiar sounds in the traditional music community in the United States for many decades, but this collection of banjo-fiddle duets is their first recording together. Of the 23 tunes here, 14 are from Alan’s mentor Henry Reed, three are from Edden and Burl Hammons, and the rest are from Vaughn Marley, Earl Shatterly, Lonnie Corsbie, Tinsey Clapp, Harlan Coble, Taylor Kimble, John Lewis, and Ross Miller, all from North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. The one northern tune is “The Honeymoon” from Archie Stewart of Prince Edward Island.

There are a variety of ways for an oldtime banjo to accompany a fiddle, and one would expect Ken Perlman to stick very close to the melody, which he does, though he plays other types of accompaniments on some tunes, such as the waltzes. The tunes run from “Billy In The Low Land” to “Boatman” with a good selection of tunes that Alan is known for playing included. There are two medleys, “Magpie”/“Greasy String,” and “Chapel Hill Serenade”/“Green Willis,” which are actually the same tune in 6/8 and 4/4. Along the way, check out the rhythmically complex “Henry Reed’s Breakdown,” the lovely, lilting waltz-time, “Rocking The Babies To Sleep,” and the very crooked “Henry Reed’s Favorite."

Jabbour’s and Perlman’s styles are wellmatched, and this is a very beautiful set of tunes played with love for the music and care for details of the settings. One could imagine listening to the music on this CD in an elegant 19th century parlor. The tunes are exquisitely played and will be welcomed by lovers of oldtime music.



Southern Summits, 21 Duets for Fiddle and Banjo


[Reviewed by Duck Baker, Dirty Linen #121 (December ‘05-January ‘06), pp. 50-51]


This excellent release is notable for several things, beginning with the fact that it ranks among the very best efforts either of these veteran performers has committed to record. Even more importantly, it’s just a great listen, with one good tune following another all the way through. It’s also one of the only records this writer knows that consists entirely of fiddle and banjo duos. Strange as it may seem, the only other strictly fiddle/banjo record that comes to mind is Byron Berline and Jon Hickman’s Double Trouble, recorded in 1986. That estimable effort was bluegrass, of course, while Jabbour and Perlman are definitely old-timey players, but both records beg the question of why this combination, which was the basic building block of all Appalachian instrumental music, isn’t being exploited more often.


The question seems particularly unanswerable when one listens to the great arrangements on Southern Summits. In duo, the fiddle and banjo are much freer to combine in all kinds of ways than they are when backed by guitar. They can double the melody, play in octaves or harmony, or switch back and forth between these approaches, without the nuances being drowned out. Perlman’s hand is especially free to move between clawhammer and picking styles, and from melody to harmony, counterpoint, or backup. All of which is what the banjo is for, one might say, but you rarely hear it to such advantage. Perlman responds with the most forceful playing I’ve heard from him, and Jabbour is at the top of his form for a program that, as we might expect, is tilted heavily toward the repertory of Henry Reed. This writer’s favorite, however, was the almost aggressive rendering of Edden Hammons’ “Sandy Boys.”




[Reviewed by Bill Hicks, The Old-Time Herald, vol. 10, no. 1 (Fall 2005), p. 45.]


This body of tunes introduced many of those of my generation to serious fiddling – by which I mean taking seriously the versions of tunes played by specific fiddlers, in their specific styles. It is no accident that these tunes are listed, each and every one, with their source fiddler attached. In most cases that fiddler is Henry Reed, the octogenarian Glen Lyn, Virginia, fiddler “discovered” by Alan Jabbour in 1965 or ‘66. Henry Reed’s reputation was large in the area where he played. Oscar Wright told me of a night when Henry entered a dance where Oscar was playing, borrowed Oscar’s fiddle to play a tune or two, and then finished the rest of the dance as Oscar would no longer get up to play in Henry’s presence. By the 1960s, Mr. Reed had weakened considerably and, in some cases, tunes required significant reconstruction to be understandable as whole tunes. In Alan’s lovely metaphor, Henry Reed and the handful of fiddlers left in his generation in the mid-‘60s were like the last grains of sand in an hourglass. In Alan’s work, however, the glass was somehow turned over, and now, 40 years on, it seems relatively full again.


Alan Jabbour pursued the music for itself, for its pure artistic quality. He revered the tunes, and expected those around him (like Bobbie and Tommy Thompson of the Hollow Rock String Band that he formed with them and Bertram Levy) to understand that they should be handled with love and care. “This is Henry Reed’s ‘Billy in the Low Land.’ And this is Arthur Smith’s ‘Billy in the Low Ground.’” In the early ‘70s Alan was pursuing his professional career as Head of the Folksong Archive of the Library of Congress when he was introduced to another great mountain fiddler, Burl Hammons, and the rest of the Hammons family. With the assistance of Carl Fleischhauer, Dwight Diller, and others, Alan produced the remarkable Hammons Family LP for the Library, documenting one mountain family’s musical traditions. The Hammons family provides the other primary source for these tunes, both Burl and Burl’s uncle Edden, who had been recorded earlier by a West Virginia folklorist and whose recordings were eventually disinterred and released in LP form in the ‘80s.


While Alan would be the first to point the listener to these primary sources, his own fiddling is also a remarkable lens into the music of the fiddlers he has studied. To some degree this is precisely because Alan maintained a significant artistic distance from his sources. As a trained violinist, Alan brought (brings) a high technical proficiency to his playing. His left hand is precise, his noting accurate – but not hidebound by classical convention. He hears and plays the details of a tune, the tripleted embellishment, the variations that is itself repeated each second time through the phrase, the doubled open string. His bowing is equally precise, and equally observant. The old fiddlers Alan studied used single note strokes and short slurred bow patterns to achieve the drive and rhythm of the dance. Although Alan was certainly capable of transforming these tunes into the long slurred passages typical of classical phrasing, he never thought of doing any such thing. An Alan Jabbour tune, then, is a particular sort of thing. It is a tune recognizably from a particular source and played with a particular technical accuracy and discipline. And beyond that I think you should simply listen to the CD.

In Ken Perlman Alan has found a perfect partner for his style of artistic tune statement. Perlman has himself studied the tunes and spent much of his life in the search of source players. Among many projects, Perlman produced some years back the definitive field recordings of the fiddling of Prince Edward Island. His playing is accurate, precise, and it’s clear that Ken listens attentively to both the tune and the fiddler.


Thus: 21 Duets for Fiddle and Banjo. The fiddle and banjo duet has always been of particular note in the Appalachian fiddling tradition. The two instruments can twine the melody together and pass it back and forth, their ranges complementing each other to such an extent that, when a melodic banjo player like Perlman is involved, it will sometimes seem as though there might even be a second fiddle present – the duet on “Green Willis” is particularly striking to my ear in this respect, with each player passing the tune back and forth from the higher octave to the lower. This is not dance fiddling – although Alan and Ken could of course play one hell of a great dance if they wanted to. This is a specific, lovely thing they are doing, this presentation of 21 old tunes. And what it affords us all is the opportunity to hear the tunes with a clarity that is almost impossible when listening directly to the sources, or to contemporary musicians who are using the tunes in their conventional purpose, to drive a dance or a jam session, or as a vehicle for improvisation.


For me, as well, this CD is a kind of trip back to those early days. As good as it was back then, Alan’s playing has matured, grown more nuanced and subtle as the years have passed. I’m delighted, as should we all be, that he has chosen to continue recording and playing, that he’s having lots of fun with these tunes he’s loved for 40 years.