BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
At first, it seems an odd diversion, this down home helping of arcane Appalachian tradition overseen by the decidedly uptown Philly combo called Marah. Inspired by a 19th century manuscript of the same name, Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania finds Marah’s Dave Bielanko and Christine Smith temporarily discarding their anthemic, Springsteen-esque pontifications of old for a sound that’s strangely yet genuinely archaic. Fiddles, mandolin, Jews harp and tattered vocals drive these narratives, homilies and hoedowns, and turn them into textbook lessons in authentic Americana.
Still, the parchment isn’t entirely unblemished; the revved up gospel soiree “Ten Cents at the Gate” becomes a brassy clap-along celebration, while an otherwise dusty exhortation, “Sing! O Muse of the Mountain,” is unexpectedly tempered by scorching slabs of discordant guitar. The purposeful “Melody of Rain” gets a subtle lift from a distant vocal choir, effectively taking the song into otherworldly realms. Even the solo strum of “Harry Bells” takes an unexpected turn, courtesy of a precious child-like vocal that seems strangely out of sync. Nevertheless, authenticity prevails, imbuing Mountain Minstrelsy with an unfettered charm and stoic simplicity far removed the cluttered trappings of present day circumstance. What a wonderful respite indeed.
DOWNLOAD: “Ten Cents at the Gate,” “Melody of Rain”