Contra Music: The Sound Of New England

By Various Artists

  1. The Green Mountain
    Siobhan O’Donnell’s
  2. Lafferty’s
  3. I Don’t Love Nobody
    Little Old Cabin In The Lane
    Honey Harbor Two Step
  4. Leather Britches
  5. Poor Old Woman
    Ned Kendall’s
    Levi Beaulieu
  6. The Jewel Tune
    Briul De La Fagaras
    The Carpathian Tune
  7. Bagpipe Ditty
    Christmas Day In The Morning
    Young Widow
  8. Chorus
    Growling Old Man And Woman
  9. O’Donal Abhu
    Rocks Of Brae
    Meeting Of The Waters
  10. Lamplighters
    Kildare Fancy
  11. Happy Acres
    Johnny Rhino
  12. Kilcommon
    The Volunteer

Three comments

“Contra Music: The Sound of New England” ~ a sampler

Great Meadow Music, 2002 - CD: GMM 2012

& here are the bands and musicians featured on this recording ~

1. ) “Mary Cay Brass & Friends: Green Mountain”

2. ) “Wild Asparagus: From the Floor Up”
“Wild Asparagus: Best of Wild Asparagus”

3. ) “Rodney Miller and Bob McQuillen: Pure Quill”

4. ) “Rodney Miller, Peter Barnes, John McGann: Airplang II”

5. ) “Rodney Miller and David Surette: New Leaf”

6. ) “The Moving Violations: Faster than a Walk”

7. ) “The Rodney Miller Band: Greasy Coat”

8. ) “Susan Kevra with Mary Cay Brass and Friends: Full Swing”

9. ) “Rodney & Randy Miller and friends: New England Chestnuts Vol. 2”

10. ) “Rodney & Randy Miller and friends: New England Chestnuts, Vol.1”

11. ) “Bob McQuillen, Jane Orzechowski, Deanna Stiles: Old New England”

12. ) “The Rodney Miller Band: Airdance”

“Contra Music: The Sound of New England: Eleven New England Contra Bands”

Now where did I put that case of snake oil?

This is a ‘sampler’ of ‘Contra music’, music that rises out of a multifaceted dance tradition known collectively as ‘contra dance’, with regular events all around North America, and, though not as popular as line dancing, even over here in Europe. To quote their own description for this ~ “with twelve cuts from Great Meadow’s first eleven releases featuring New Enlands’s best Contra muscians and bands.”

Starting off with a roll and a rumble of reels, rollicking dance music with heavy handed piano bashin‘, and moving through a wide variety of moods and approaches, from lighter touches to tracks that do not miss the extreme silliness that can plague this particular mixed ’American‘ tradition. The ’reference‘ to it being ’New England‘ is a little loose, though the bands may reside there, as contras and the accompanying musics are not and never were confined to there, nor is silliness or taking things O.T.T… Following on from that first romp, track 2 of daftness is brought to us by the group ’Wild Asparagus’, which from this I’d suspect to be a species of that plant that would cause me grave indigestion… Fortunately I have known better sets of music by this band. Mixed within there’s ragtime, swingy bits, bluesy dabs, you name it ~ and the kitchen sink of arranging is probably there somewhere, I’m sure I heard it ~ possibly percussion? There’s even a selection of 32 bar Eastern European numbers, track 6, including something I’d swear was a Hungarian Verbunkos, but opening with a percussion solo ~ is that a dumbek I hear? ~ or was that tabla?

Track 8 features some gentle calling, so you could invite some friends over and dance to this track, and the accompaniment is sweet too. And the following two tracks, 9 & 10, are good fun… It all comes to a soft finish with track 12, I’d hoped. But, it doesn’t leave it there, of course, which is no surprise when it comes to the convolutions that seem to pool under the heading ‘contra music’. They just can’t leave a good thing well enough alone, it HAS to be arranged, a tempo change, a time signature shift, something cute, and irritating. Maybe it’s all that granola, yoghurt, decaffeinated drinks, and no fat ice cream? But, please, let’s not blame New England for it all, or credit them as the only source, as the sole of influences. They are just a few branches worth, another of the many hybrids that there always have been and always will be…

The good and the awful, it’s all here in this sample CD. But some of you will no doubt love the silly stuff, as there’s never a shortage of slapstick and folks that love to push things till they break. As always in this varied world, what I like someone else won’t, and what irritates me may inspire another. Fun’s fun, and who’d want to take away from a bit of a lark? Sometimes it is pulled off with aplomb, and at other times it can grate like chalk on slate, clumsily or pretentiously.

But it’s not like the Americans are the only banner wavers for extreme arrangment, similar mayhem affects revivalism elsewhere, like with English dance and its music, from digeridoos played by the rhythmically clueless to bass clarinets and brass sections just for the volume, for effect…

This little sampler CD is OK for the price, my purchase only being a couple of quid. Hoever, my wife disagrees, listening to it on a trip in the car, when I told her how much I’d paid for it her response was, “You were robbed!” My main complaint as a sampler is that it doesn’t really do justice to the wide array of things that ‘Great Meadow Music’ has put time into, from the gentle to the weird. I guess, in a sense, it deserves some sympathy, as I’d guess that much of what falls under the heading ‘contra music’ has picked up some mud from the influence of elevators and shopping malls and the audio waves of the recording company ‘Wyndam Hill’. However, the last mention is not quite the only progeneter to this can of wriggling mutations. I think that sometimes too much effort can be put into being ‘cute’, putting on a show, trying too hard to add something ‘different’…

To do ‘Great Meadow Music’ a better appreciation of all they’ve done, the wide variety of listens, this needed another dozen tracks at the least, and at the minimum one good waltz, and maybe a hambo thrown in too… But the same can be said for each of the contributors, all of which have produced at least something I’ve gotten some pleasure for listening or dancing to, even as daft and silly as some of it can be and is…

Here are a few other recordings from ‘Great Meadow Music’ that are already featured on site here ~

“Rodney Miller, Randy Miller And Friends: New England Chestnuts Vol. 1”

“Rodney Miller, Randy Miller And Friends: New England Chestnuts Vol. 2”

“New England Chestnuts Volumes 1 and 2: Classic New England Contra Music”

“Tidal Wave: Contra Music Of Quebec”
~ yet another sub-category?!

I found something, but it was anti-venom serum… I must have sold all that snake oil. 😉