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The Black Twig Pickers Whompyjawed Review

EP. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Exuberant and joyful are the key words on these extended hoedowns.

Martin Longley 2012

Along with the Malian guitarist Sidi Touré, Virginians The Black Twig Pickers inhabit Thrill Jockey’s atypical signings corner, making a detour outside the Chicago label’s tilted rock majority. This trio’s old-timey American roots music couldn’t be further away from the sonic terrain of all their labelmates, but the Pickers still feel happily at home in a field of general wayward adventuring.

They’ve arrived at this music from an unusual direction, having themselves moved from amplified rock’n’roll droning towards all-acoustic hoedowning. Apparently, the Twiggers have seamlessly sidled into the beery realms of their grizzled old-time forebears on the Virginia gig scene.

In the slightly-less-olden days, Whompyjawed would have been an EP, or perhaps a mini-LP. But now it’s two long tracks to be consumed whichever way, clocking in at just over 24 minutes. But we could have hopped and clumped through double this length, such is the dancing momentum generated by this record.

There’s something about this heads-down trundling that suggests an old form of American minimalism, the way the sawing fiddles build up their repeating phrases over extended time. It’s akin to a porch session, or a campfire gathering, except that we can’t hear the assembled gang of partying hollerers.

Given the extension of each track, a gradual intensification transpires. Merry Mountain Hoedown pits a pair of fiddles (played by Mike Gangloff and Sally Morgan) against each other, one in each stereo channel. There’s also banjo, guitar and what sounds like clacking bones. Exuberant and joyful are the key words, and the momentum never flags.

The percussive footwork sounds distant on the first tune, but jumps up in the mix for Brushy Fork of John’s Creek. It opens with a sparser set-up, fiddle string-grain magnified, banjo-clank given space to resonate. Soon, though, the interknitting takes over, and the density resumes.

It’s all live in the studio, but some may yearn for a full field recording wildness, crowd responses included. Harmonica slips in for the climax, courtesy of Isak Howells, in train-tooting style, and the whole shebang ends with just banjo and feet.

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