Archive for the ‘Bruce Molsky’ Category

Where Do You Get Your Whiskey?

May 11, 2015

1865: Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War

March 3, 2015
Anonymous 4 & Bruce Molsky
Anonymous 4 and special guest Bruce Molsky commemorate the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War with songs that were in the air in the year 1865. It includes ballads and choruses originally intended for the stage and the parlor, as well as songs and instrumental tunes from the hills and back roads of America. They portray the highly emotional, personal stories of soldiers, widows and others who lived through one of the bloodiest wars in American history.

1865 — subtitled Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War — is the third release in what’s become an Americana triptych from Anonymous 4 (less anonymously, Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer and Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek).This time around, they’re joined by an excellent old-time musician, Bruce Molsky, who sings and plays fiddle, banjo and guitar.

It’s an organic collaboration, but the combination also evokes a specific dynamic: women tending the homefront, men on the battlefield. And as in their two previous releases of American songs, American Angels and Gloryland, the singing is gorgeous, with deep, sweet feeling. By the time “Abide with Me” and “Shall We Gather at the River” roll around at the close of this album, it’s quite possible you’ll be sniffling.

One hundred and 50 years on, there are still a few songs whose tunes and ideas remain familiar, including Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More,” published in 1854, and Robert Lowry’s 1864 “Shall We Gather at the River?” Another, the 1861 love song “Aura Lee,” found new life in another context altogether, as the melody for one of Elvis Presley’s biggest hits, “Love Me Tender.” But some have largely receded from popular memory; if some of today’s alt-folkies are looking for “new” material, there’s plenty here.

It’s nearly impossible to overstate how important singing was during the Civil War, not just for those waiting back home but to the fighting men as well. Songwriters raced to churn out thousands of new tunes and publishers created small booklets of lyrics, called “songsters,” that soldiers and civilians could carry in their pockets. Some were abolitionist songs, some were Southern and in many, words were switched out to favor one side or the other.

But as Anonymous 4 mention in their liner notes, there are many wartime accounts of opposing soldiers, in their camps pitched across a battlefield or river from each other, trading songs back and forth in succession and even raising their voices together. In the present days of deep rifts and political enmities — hard times, to be sure — it’s good to remember what has the power to bind us together.


Nothing is Simple

July 24, 2014


by Bruce Molsky (from interview at

Old-time music is what people played in their communities as part of everyday existence. It wasn’t meant to be performance music. But when radio came along in the ’20s that approach wasn’t well–suited to a professional performance medium. For one thing, in old-time music you just start a tune and everybody plays until they’re done. There’s not enough structural diversity to keep it interesting on the radio—that’s my personal theory.

What we call old-time music was the ballads your mother sang in the kitchen. It was what people played for square dances or for their own entertainment. It was just as much about the musician as it was about the listener. Old-time music was community music. That’s why, when it became popular in the early 1950s, the music immediately became associated with left-wing politics, because it wasn’t meant to be owned.

It’s a visual thing. If you’ve ever spent any time in parts of West Virginia, it’s dark, it’s lonesome. The mountains are really high and steep and block out light half the day and the hollers are kind of dank and it’s just got a really strong vibe, and that very lonesome music. That’s the kind of image I see when I’m playing.

The picture I see can evoke people, or a story, or a color, or a time and place, even if it never existed—so much of what initially attracted me to this music was my perception of a simple world that probably never was, but the music pointed to that, you know? Simple life and hard labor with good rewards. Peace in your life and spiritual fulfillment. I liked this kind of music because it had a really simple message. Nothing is simple, I learned later. But that’s what the music has always meant to me. Even though I’m old enough to know better, I still like feeling that feeling I had when I first heard it.

Molsky and Winston 1992

April 19, 2014


April 6, 2013


from and

FRC700 – The Hellbenders   $15 (available here):
The Hellbenders, Bruce Molsky and James Leva (fiddles), David Winston (banjo), Mary Winston (guitar) and Dave Grant (bass) made these recordings in Charlottesville, VA released on cassette in 1990 and digitally remixed and remastered by Al Tharp from his original recordings for this CD.

Dave Grant, who was the soul of the band, was killed in a work accident in 2002. He was an inspiration in music and in life. This album is dedicated with love and appreciation to Dave Grant.

The Hellbenders was a unique old-time musical feast. Inspired by players heard from all over Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, and by the classic old recordings of southern mountain music, they went in the studio in 1989 and recorded a cassette, kind of a testament to the music scene and everything that was happening around them at that time. High energy, no holds barred string band music, fiddles blazing.

1. Altamont
2. Train on the Island
3. Chinquapin
4. Tight Old Sally Gal
5. Red Mountain Wine
6. Betty Baker
7. She Took it Off
8. Indian War Whoop
9. Cider
10. Baby Waltz
11. Poor Little Mary (Sittin’ in the Corner)
12. Bravest Cowboy
13. Sambo
14. Woop Reprise

The Hellbenders play “Cider”:

Breaking up Christmas

December 25, 2012

I Get My Whiskey from Rockingham

October 25, 2012


Fiddler Bruce Molsky picked up the fiddle when he was 18, which would eventually be good news for music lovers but bad news for his college professors and the firm where he would work as a mechanical engineer. While attending Cornell University  he became infatuated with old time.

“When I discovered old time,” he said, “my college days were over.” He did, however, make a living as a mechanical engineer for many years before finally becoming a full time musician at age 41.

That fateful leap was inspired, in part, by a conversation in a UK pub with Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser. He urged Molsky to give it a go as a full-timer.  “I  made myself a promise,” he recalled. “I would always be true to the music I thought I should be playing.”

While he said the decision was the “best favor I ever did for myself “ he also said his income was more secure when he was “a professional person.” Early on he played for very small crowds and laughing recalled one gig with a single-digit audience. It happened ten years ago at a Scottish shopping mall. “Nobody knew who I was,” he said, and he played for “two waitresses, the sound guy and one actual audience member.”