"You've Been A Friend To Me"
|Review by Bill Wagner
The Old Time Herald, Volume 13, Number 4 (~December 2012)
Thirty years afer they last recorded together, three of the original Red Clay Ramblers -- Jim Watson, Mike Craver, and Bill Hicks -- have joined with banjoist Joe Newberry and produced an exciting and entertaining new recording. Listening to the 15 tracks set me to thinking back on the band, and reminded me that what always struck me as the heart of the old Red Clay Ramblers' recordings were the goofy, tongue-in-cheek numbers. They might be old tunes or they might be newly-minted by one of the band members, but either way you always knew that behind a tune such as "The Merchant's Lunch" or "The Corrugated Lady," or even a cover of the Charlie Poole classic "Milwaukee Blues," was a group of guys having a whale of a good time and not taking things too seriously. Saying that does not take anything away from their playing. They were and still are, of course, excellent old-time musicians, well-versed in their craft.
Their albums always included strong, exuberant versions of fiddle tunes, and that is just as true on this recording. "Sally Ann," "Ship in the Clouds - Red Fox," and "Texas Gals" each sparkles and crackles with energy and gets a propulsive drive from Hicks' fiddle, Newberry's banjo, and Watson's mandolin. Occasionally Craver's piano joins in the fray. That exuberance transfers over as well to the non-fiddle tune numbers. You could also rely on their recordings to include a couple of softer, sentimental tunes, and again, that is true for this album, on which there are no fewer than five. Newberry contributes a nifty, loping tale of wandering in the "Missouri Borderland" and the perils that result. That stands well beside Mike Craver's covers of "My Old Cottage Home," In the Shadow of the Pines," and "You've Been a Friend to Me," all three written by or associated with the Carter Family. Songs from the Carter Family have always been a specialty of Craver's, and few singers can get inside one any better than he. All three songs are beutifully done here, with "My Cottage Home" being my favorite, full of the nineteenth-century parlor sentimentality, perfectly framed by Craver's gentle voice and by some fine harmonies. There's also a lilting cover of "Lowe Bonnie," a traditional tune from Darby and Tarlton's repertoire, and for good measure the boys throw in a four-part a cappella version of "Piney Mountains" that is dead-on and delightful.
But, of course, what animates all of those is the spirit of fun, found in such freewheeling and good-time tunes as the Georgia Yellowhammers' "Kiss Me Quick" and "The Man From Tennessee," and in Riley Puckett's pseudo-gospel "I'm Getting Ready To Go." As good as those are -- and they are -- Hicks' "Uncle Charlie's Revenge" goes them one better, detailing some bad times with persimmons, liquor, and fiddles, while Craver thumps away enthusiastically on the piano. Even that pales, however, beside Craver's own minute and fifty-one seconds of madness called "How Does The Glass Eye Work?" It must be heard to be appreciated, but any kind of weird question you may have had about glass eyes is probably in there. A ragtime backing rounds out the fun.
Held up to the pantheon of
Red Clay Ramblers' recordings, this one does quite well. It's not
equal to their best recordings, for some of the earlier ones are hard to
beat. But in terms of elan and verve and all those other words that
point to the all-important spirit, You've Been a Friend to Me ranks
right near the top.
Photo by Lonnie Webster
Mountain Home 2009
|Review in Bluegrass
Unlimited, December 2012
Three of these folks were members of the Red Clay Ramblers, and Joe Newberry (whose song “Singing As We Rise” just won an IBMA award) is a fun guy, too. You can hear that distilled fun on this new CD. There are three original songs: from Joe, “Missouri Borderland”; Bill Hicks’ “Uncle Charlie’s Revenge”; and Mike Craver’s “How Does A Glass Eye Work?” All four sing lead and harmony vocals. Craver plays guitar and piano, Hicks fiddle, Watson mandolin, guitar, and bass, and Newberry guitar and banjo. They start with Tommy Jarrell’s version of the Surry County anthem, “Sally Ann,” sung in three-part harmony. Then the Georgia Yellowhammers’ “Kiss Me Quick.” The Yellowhammers are also the source for “The Man From Tennessee.” Speaking of sources, there are three from the Carter Family and one each from Riley Puckett, Taylor Kimble, Henry Reed, Darby and Tarleton, Craig Johnson, Jack Maclintock, and Bill Northcutt. There are thirteen songs and three tunes: “Ship In The Clouds,” “Red Fox,” and “Texas Gals.”
These four gentlemen are
veterans of more bands than I could possibly list, including several in
which they are currently performing. They bring that experience to each
of these songs and tunes. There is great singing, great fiddling, great
banjo playing, and great everything else. Have you figured out yet that
I give my highest recommendation to this recording? If you like old-time
music, if you like music period, find this recording and play it over and
over again, and you will see what I mean. (Jim Watson, 132 Justice St.,
Chapel Hill, NC 27516,www.craverhickswatsonnewberry.com.)SAG
Photo by Daniel Coston
Carter Family Fold 2003
Daniel Coston caught our guys surrounded by John Carter Cash on the left in the doorway, Janette Carter seated behind Mike on the right, and Dale Jett on the right front. Johnny Cash had just finished his next-to-last public performance to memorialize his wife June, who had passed away the month before. Daniel wrote about this night in his book North Carolina Musicians: Photographs and Conversations.
|Review by Jack Bernhardt
Raleigh News & Observer, September 30, 2012
Bill Hicks, Jim Watson and Tommy Thompson formed the Red Clay Ramblers in 1972 as a latter-day incarnation of the country string bands of the 1920s and ’30s. Prolific, audacious and endlessly creative, the ’blers added Mike Craver and expanded their repertoire with original songs and theater. By the mid-1980s, Craver, Hicks and Watson left to pursue other interests. Banjoist/singer/songwriter Thompson died in 2003. With the talented Joe Newberry stepping into Thompson’s very large shoes, “You’ve Been a Friend to Me” gloriously revives the spirit and sound of the Ramblers’ early years.
The 15-track CD is decidedly old-timey, reminiscent of RCR’s 1975 jewel, “Stolen Love.” The quartet leads with Hicks and Newberry delivering a blue ribbon-worthy fiddle-banjo rendition of the late Mount Airy fiddler Tommy Jarrell’s “Sally Ann.” Watson lends his inimitable high tenor to the Georgia Yellow Hammers’ “Kiss Me Quick” and “The Man from Tennessee.”
Other delights include pitch-perfect three- and four-part harmonies on the Carter Family’s “My Old Cottage Home,” “In the Shadow of the Pines,” and title track, Riley Puckett’s “I’m Getting Ready to Go,” and a Watson-Craver reprise of the Darby and Tarlton duet, “Lowe Bonnie.”
The album also features original songs from Hicks (“Uncle Charlie’s Revenge”), Newberry (“Missouri Borderline”), Craig Johnson (“Piney Mountains”) and Craver (“How Does a Glass Eye Work?”). “You’ve Been a Friend to Me” returns to days of yore while keeping the tradition alive with new material, performed flawlessly by a quartet of masterful Piedmont pickers, singers, and composers.
Photo by Jane Hogan
Cook Shack 2006
Randy Pitts likes the project.
Randog's Daily Pick 4/16/2015
Craver, Hicks,Watson & Newberry "You've Been A Friend To Me" Barker Records CD2012
Because I was a fan of the great original Red Clay Ramblers music of the 70s and 80s--who wasn't, and isn't?--I was intrigued by a notice of a public appearance of this band, which includes three members of that great band plus Joe Newberry, and said so. Result? I now am proud owner of this fine CD, though I wasn't able to see the live show--a CD which encompasses examples of the music of greats from the past--"Sally Ann," from the repertoire of Tommy Jarrell, "Kiss Me Quick," The Georgia Yellowhammers, Riley Puckett's "I'm Gettin' Ready To Go," with a cool lead vocal by Joe Newberry, three songs from the repertoire of The Carter Family--"My Old Cottage Home," "In The Shadow Of The Pines," and "You've Been A Friend To Me," (reminiscent of probably my favorite album of Carter Family songs, by Craver, Watson and the late Tommy Thompson, from the 80s) Haywire Mac McClintock's "Tying Ten Knots In The Devil's Tail," with an exquisite vocal rendering by Bill Hicks and Jim Watson, and more, including an, well, interesting original by pianist Mike Craver entitled "How Does A Glass Eye Work?" and another,"Uncle Charlie's Revenge," by Bill Hicks. Lots of fun, losts of great music...if the kids ever ask, What was old time music like?-- give 'em this.
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