My family roots are in the hills of western North Carolina and North Georgia so I guess you could say that the music of Appalachia is ingrained in my being. Further back than that, the family patriarchs emigrated from Ireland during the famine of 1740. They, along with tens of thousands of families made their way to the US and settled primarily in the Appalachian region from Virginia to the Carolinas. They brought with them a musical tradition based on Irish ballads and English folk songs and utilized traditional instrumentation of the banjo, fiddle and guitar. So it’s no wonder that the music of Appalachia and folk music from the British Isles have many similarities and meld together so brilliantly.
A new band called The Paper Trains out of Southampton, UK caught my attention recently. The band bills itself as a modern Americana string band from the UK and the blend of the musical traditions of the two regions are clearly evident and flawlessly executed on their debut album “The Mule” released in April of this year. What struck me first about this band was not the originality of the songs and how they were able to capture the feeling and spirit of the American South or the perfect blend of guitar, banjo, upright bass and mandolin. A lot of bands these days can do all that. To me, what sets this band apart is the quality of the vocal accompaniment provided by all three principals of the group Simon Fisk, Natalie (Nat) Olden and Jon Brendan. Nat’s voice anchors the arrangements and Simon and Jon fill the spaces and fit in like a complicated jigsaw puzzle. This collection of ten original songs ranges from the rootsy (‘Wednesday’s Child’, ‘The Straight and Narrow’) to the bluesy (‘Cookie Jar’, ‘In Exile’) to the back porch stompers (‘Cannonball Express’, ‘(The Virtues of) Wild Corn Whiskey’).
Even the cover art, Nat in a cowboy hat shooting pool in a darkened pool hall with Simon and Jon in the background with ball caps, decked in flannel with drinks in hand, sets the tone for the record and the tracks do everything to reinforce the mood set by the art. The band is a complete package; a coherent identity, a down to earth perspective and above all, music that supports and ties it all together. I could go on and on about The Paper Trains and how good they are but you cannot get a full appreciation until you pick up a copy of the album and hear it for yourself. In the tradition of Andy Griffith and Mayberry USA, the Paper Trains are a return to simpler times and a truly authentic style of music.
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Uncle Duke; a.k.a. Rob Penland is the producer and host of "The Mad Music Asylum" a 4 hour weekly syndicated radio show and now a 24 hour streaming internet station.