Attention for 'The Piper in the Holler':

Chosen as Celtic Music Radio's 'Album of the Week' (September 29, 2012)

Track 7 ('Wayfaring Stranger/British Field March') features on the supplementary CD to Fiona Ritchie & Doug Orr's 'Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia' (UNC Press, 2013)

Also featured on PlanetPipe, NPR's The Thistle & Shamrock, BBC Radio Scotland's Pipeline, Vermont Public Radio's All the Traditions, North Country Public Radio's The Folk Show, The College of Piping's CoP Radio, and Western North Carolina Public Radio's Close to Home, among others.

3 Reviews:

-- From Art Edelstein, for Vermont Today and the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus:

-- From the LBPS's Common Stock Journal (December 2012, vol. 29, no. 2):

When we think of music from the Appalachian Mountains in Southeastern USA we think of the the fiddle, dulcimer and 5-string (clawhammer-style of playing) banjo. Oh, and song of course. Bagpipes? Now that is interesting, but here they are, featuring and playing tunes and hymns from this region.

The region itself is a melting pot of Scots, Irish, English, Scandinavian and German immigrants to the New World and many of the tunes and songs reflect this migration. Many versions of English ballads can be found along with instrumental music. Many tunes have also survived though sometimes altered, though the traditional roots are still there.

This CD by piper Timothy Cummings has taken many of these tunes and also those that are 'home grown' and has given them a new flavour by using his instruments, the Border pipes and Scottish smallpipes, as well as Highland pipes (on one track) and whistle. Added to these instruments he uses the clawhammer-style 5-string banjo, old-time fiddle and viola as well as vocals. Mandolin and double bass also feature in the last track on the CD.

My first experience of pipes and banjos was Fred Morrison using bluegrass banjo on his latest CD which showed what a wonderful combination this could be.

This CD steps back from the frenetic bluegrass style and is what we call, or at least I do, 'Old Time' playing. The combination of instruments works very well and I love the banjo!

From start to finish the CD is an interesting and refreshing change from a lot of piping CDs we have these days. The music is simple but in its simplicity there is a beauty; to me it is seems played not to impress but from the heart. Having a soft spot for Appalachian music I have thoroughly enjoyed this offering from Timothy. It shows that the pipes are not limited to the tradition on this side of the pond and work just as well with tunes from elsewhere. Of course there are tunes or variants that are played on this side, and the Border Tradition itself gets a look-in with a track featuring 'Linkum Doddie' and 'Jenny Nettles', though it is given the old-time treatment.

The mood of the CD is broken up with some very pleasant singing with pipe accompaniment which once again works very well.

Timothy has opted for a different recording approach too and rather than record in a studio with all the trickery that entails he recorded most of the CD 'live' with the musicians playing together in an open, reconstructed barn situated on a hilltop amidst the Green Mountains. This has given the CD an authentic feel. The result is that the musicians could be in your living room.

As Timothy says, "This is a piping album to be sure, but one with strong Southern flavoring: a genuinely American expression".

I won't single out too many individual tracks but I particularly like the opening track which sets the scene with 'Bonaparte Crossing the Rockies' which is a well kent tune in the piping repertoire but more well known as 'Battle of Waterloo'. Starting with the Border pipes the fiddle eases in with both instruments giving that real old-time flavour with sliding notes and then the banjo comes in nailing the old-time feeling. All instruments fit so well together with good balance between them.

On track 2, Tim utilises an interesting adaptation where he tapes the C# down to C-natural on A smallpipes and plays a catchy set of tunes in G on the A chanter with drones tunes to G/D. Once again the combination of pipes and banjo works really well.

Track 3 moves away from pipes and features Tim on whistle with fiddle and banjo. Listeners will recognise the tune 'New Rigged Ship' but in the Appalachians it is called 'Chapel Hill Serenade'.

Track 6 is the first vocal offering, 'The Dying Californian' with the pipes providing a delightful harmony to the singing of Hollis Easter. No other instruments feature on the track. This is a tragically uplifting song about the California Gold Rush. The pipes fit the song so well.

A nod to the Border and its tunes comes with a rendition on track 8 of the well know tunes 'Linkum Doddie' and 'Jenny Nettles'. As Tim says, these were chosen as a nod to the Old World. To me the banjo sounds as if has been tuned down* which gives it a 'growling' tone which fits well with the chirpyness of the pipes; then we have the only appearance of that quintessential Appalachian instrument the Mountain or Lap Dulcimer.

Following on from this track are a set of three tunes, 'Wondrous Love', 'Ecstasy', and 'Cowper' from the Shape Note singing tradition which suit the modality of the pipes very well. Tim is double tracked here playing low-D whistle and with banjo providing the backing. On the next track Tim triple tracks himself playing another hymn from the tradition, 'Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah'. I will admit it took a few listens to get my ears around this track but I did. It didn't immediately stand out as one of the better tracks at first hearing but listening more closely I came to like it. Some folks may question the playing of religious music on the pipes but heck, why not. They are good tunes.

Following on we have a second vocal offering, 'Fathers, Now Our Meetings Over', sung by Pete Sutherland who puts away his banjo and plays guitar and is once again accompanied by Tim on D taped smallpipes and Caleb Elder on viola. The song is actually a funeral hymn from the western part of North Carolina.

The CD ends with a traditional hoedown tune called 'Sandy Boys' where the arrangement is in the true string band tradition where all melody instruments take turns stepping up to the mike and soloing, so in addition to the Border pipes we have, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar and string bass. This for me works really well with pipes and they don't seem out of place at all in this instrumental lineup. Probably one of my favourite tracks.

Although I don't play this type of music (well perhaps one song when in the mood) I have always had a soft spot for music from the Appalachians and Old Time music in general.

I would thoroughly recommend buying this album and adding it to your collection. It is a refreshing approach to piping and takes us in a direction we probably would never have thought of.

~ John Bushby

-- From Piping Today Magazine (October/November 2012, issue #60):

Mr. Cummings, a Vermont based piper born and bred in Appalachia, plays all three major varieties of Scottish bagpipes on this recording, as well as a couple of whistles, appropriately choosing makers from both Scotland and the USA. He presents stepping music, sacred music, and sippin' music from Appalachia, on solo pipes and with guest nusicians. The Appalachian Mountains run down from Canada through New England, and on into Bluegrass and Old Time country: they are associated with fiddle and banjo music: nothing too fancy, often in the keys of C and G*, famously featured in the film Deliverance. Cummings accommodates the unnatural demands of mountain musicians in a number of ways: a C chanter on his Nate Banton smallpipes, retuned drones, and "placing a piece of tuning tape to flatten the C# down to a C-natural". Now why didn't Gordon Duncan think of that?

Cummings is a skilled piper in the highland style: this is clear from his very first tune, all grace notes present and correct, but his music quickly acquires a front-porch drawl which adds a whole new aspect to the pipe sound. Few pipers have ventured into the wilds of the Eastern USA in this fashion - Fred Morrison's recent flirtations with Bluegrass, and the Canadian accents of Slainte Mhaith, are clear exceptions to this general rule. Well, maybe it's time for a change, because some of the results on
The Piper in the Holler are simply magnificent. Cummings' version of 'The Wayfaring Stranger' is both a brilliant interpretation of this archetypal American ballad, and a haunting bagpipe air comparable with great Gaelic melodies.This degree of compatibility is not so surprising - Scots or Gaelic settlers may well have been responsible for the modal melodies, vocal harmonies, and droning accompaniment which are all characteristic of Appalachian music. There is a common repertoire, too. Often the names have changed but the tunes have not - and sometimes the other way around. 'Chapel Hill Serenade' here is better known in Scotland as 'The New Rigged Ship', but not necessarily in the same key.* 'Boney Crossing the Rockies' started out as 'The Battle of Waterloo'. 'Johnny Cope' bears some resemblance to the multi-part hornpipe or march played in Scotland and Ireland, but is essentially a full rewrite by the Americans. 'Linkum Doddie' and 'Jenny Nettles' are recent imports from the Old World, while 'Ducks on the Millpond' has been exported from the New World many times before.

The pipes are joined by fiddle, banjo, and other instruments to create a range of acoustic tapestries. Cummings even includes foot percussion from guest Sandy Silva - not sure how traditional that is**, but I'd have her on my album given half a chance. The latter part of this CD contains several devotional pieces: 'Wondrous Love', 'Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah', and the funeral hymn 'Fathers Now Our Meeting is Over'. This last song incorporates vocals from fiddler and banjoman Pete Sutherland. The final track returns to down-home dance music with 'Sandy Boys', a West Virginia tune played in Bluegrass session style, a fitting end to an intriguing and enjoyable CD.

~ Alex Monaghan

*In an attempt to preserve 'freshness' and avoid playing in the same keys ad nauseum, a handful of tunes featured on this album were presented in keys they are not normally played in.
**Both hambone [body percussion] and clogging [step dance/foot percussion] are endemic to the Appalachian genre.

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