Fiddle virtuoso Lissa Schneckenburger’s latest album Song is, in a word, unexpected.
The album is clearly a labor of love, featuring modern arrangements of old Maine tunes that were nearly lost to history. Resurrected from the transcripts of early 20th-century ethnomusicologists who toured the region’s lumber camps, these songs are as much a work of historic preservation as an indie folk album.
While the record’s back story amused the historian in me, what truly surprised me about Song was that I enjoyed it. I truly, legitimately enjoyed it. My taste in folk usually tends towards the modern hyphenated varieties: folk-rock, folk-pop, folk-jazz, etc. Sure, my Irish blood stirs every time I hear a fiddle’s whining lament, but my appreciation of European roots music has always been passive at best — something I enjoy when I stumble upon it, but nothing I seek out. Yet, if my iTunes counter is correct, I’ve already listened to Lissa’s new album a dozen times in the month I’ve owned it.
It’s easy to understand why Song was able to appeal to at least this younger listener. For a traditional folk album, there is surprisingly little old-fashioned about it. The recording is crisp and clear, the instrumentation lively, and Lissa’s soulful voice is something I’d expect more out of American Idol than the Newton Town Hall. Even the album’s cover is geared to contemporary tastes, imbued with bright colors and prominently featuring Lissa in all her playful, nose-pierced youthfulness.
While some folk purists may fear the album is pandering, I hope this reaction is limited. Lissa Schneckenburger’s credentials as a folk artist have never been in question before and there is nothing on this record that strikes me as gimmicky. Rather, I look at this album as the highly unlikely fulfillment of a prophecy. Who hasn’t heard the common wisdom that “we have to get the kids interested” or America’s folk traditions will die out in a matter of years. It’s a doomsday scenario repeated so often that I’ve begun to wonder if the country has just resigned itself to that fate. That’s why I’ve hit the replay button so often on this album. I never expected fresh-blood to sound so surprising or so sweet.
CD’s available at CD Baby.