"Is it fair to say you just weren't made for these times, Frank?" "Is it? Uh, I dunno. I think everything's just as it should be."
December 2, 2012 6:45 AM   Subscribe

Frank Fairfield is a folk musician who feels like he came fresh out of another century. He plays banjo (The Winding Spring & Nine Pound Hammer and Cumberland Gap), guitar (Call Me A Dog When I'm Gone and Bye, Bye, My Eva, Bye, Bye), and fiddle (Rye Whiskey and Poor Old Lance [with quartet], which is the piece that introduced me to him).
posted by Rory Marinich (16 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, a Frank Fairfield post! We had him at the University of Chicago Folk Festival last year and he put on a fantastic show. He was authentic enough for the long-time folk aficionados and fun/modern/young enough for the student audience, and it really got everyone excited.
posted by capricorn at 7:04 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

He has two albums on Thompkins Square. I recommend them both.
posted by dobbs at 7:12 AM on December 2, 2012

A local club booked him recently. I'd not heard of him. Nobody I knew had heard of him. The booking agent told me, "You really need to hear this guy and tell your friends." We managed to pull together a small, but respectable crowd and they put him on the outdoor patio. The crowd kept growing, and growing. After his first set one of my undergraduate students said, "I just came from [a popular student beer bar]. It's totally empty. Everybody's clearing out and heading over here!"

I hope we can get him back soon. He's amazing live and a really great guy to boot!
posted by LinnTate at 7:42 AM on December 2, 2012

Well he's just great, isn't he?, and right up my alley. Thanks!
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:57 AM on December 2, 2012

Don't mean to be "anti-Frank Fairfield," I swear - I respect his musicianship, and like the way he sounds - but ...

I have wondered if he ever plays with other people. Solo performance is a cool part of the art of old-time music, both past and present, but playing music with others is at least equally important (to the social and the artistic aspects of the music), and from what I have heard on record and seen on the internet he doesn't do much if any of that.

So I was glad to see the last linked clip, of him playing with others - but still, in that, there was not the ordinary sense of group interplay that you tend to see in old time bands. It was as though there were four people playing their own things, not reacting to each other. Don't get me wrong - it ended up with a cool sound, almost like Weems String Band with extra added cacophony (in a good way!). But still I would just wonder whether if you put him in a chair with some other people and said "ok, let's play Sally Ann" would he be awesome or would he combust?
posted by sheldman at 9:20 AM on December 2, 2012

Thanks for this. Never heard of him before but I like his style and the music he makes.
posted by zinger991 at 9:44 AM on December 2, 2012

I wonder what causes / how he does the haunting echo-ish almost feedback sounding hollow twang that resonates part of the time. Very cool sound.
posted by killThisKid at 10:17 AM on December 2, 2012

Love his voice, great post.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:35 AM on December 2, 2012

Can someone explain the unconventional fiddle position? Is this traditional for this type of music?
posted by tractorfeed at 10:51 AM on December 2, 2012

Can someone explain the unconventional fiddle position?

Variations of that are very common if you're going to sing. Having your chin on the rest makes singing almost impossible.
posted by opsin at 11:59 AM on December 2, 2012

Is this traditional for this type of music?

posted by kenko at 12:01 PM on December 2, 2012

Holding the fiddle down there is a done thing, sometimes, but definitely a minority position even in the old time world. And it's more than possible to sing while holding the fiddle in near-chin position - look for youtube videos of Bruce Molsky doing (for instance) Drunkards Hiccups, Peg and Awl, etc.
posted by sheldman at 12:43 PM on December 2, 2012

At the risk of commenting too many times - but because it is an awesome video, and because it encapsulates much of what I've said in words in various comments above - please check out this video of Bruce Molsky's band playing Rockingham Cindy. They are not trying to look old-fashioned. But the music is at least as close to "the tradition" as the Fairfield clips are, and is both fun and musically brilliant.
posted by sheldman at 1:05 PM on December 2, 2012

That's true actually, the image in my head of Jon Boden singing while playing fiddle does involve him with it in the usual position, just without putting much pressure under his chin.
posted by opsin at 1:46 PM on December 2, 2012

I have wondered if he ever plays with other people.

I know about Frank Fairfield because he's played on Dust Busters albums and shows up on some youtube clips with Blind Boy Paxton. It seems like it's mostly just him on his albums, but he's out there playing with other old-timey people, too.
posted by Drab_Parts at 4:13 PM on December 2, 2012

He definitely knows how to use his appearance to his advantage, but what he does well is that he really understands how the old time American musicians sense of timing and phrasing was not as four-square and regular as modern versions of those tunes are. Most of these old "crooked tunes" got ironed out into 16 bar, 2/4 meter dance reels by the time they entered the Bluegrass canon. He does go a bit overboard with the fiddle held so low and so high up on the bow, but at least he does a darn good job of channeling the late, great Tommy Jarrell on Rye Whiskey. Damn, I miss Mr. Jarrell.
posted by zaelic at 6:27 AM on December 3, 2012

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