By Pat Moran
“Time was, a lone violin and a solitary banjo comprised a full band,” writes fiddler Darol Anger in the liner notes of Ron Cody’s The Cooper Sessions. As if to prove that point, the Wayfaring Strangers’ Matt Glaser takes up his bow and performs a wickedly knotty duel/duet with Cody’s percolating, modified Scruggs-style banjo on “Cattle in the Cain.”
The protean fiddle and banjo partnership, augmented elsewhere with shimmering mandolin, pin-wheeling guitar, and pulsing bass, is the basis of the 12 hornpipes, reels, country rambles, and breakneck bluegrass barn burners in this collection.
The set features choice fiddlers like Anger, Glaser, Bruce Molsky, Brittany Haas, and Alex Hargreaves paying tribute to the exquisite violins crafted by Jonathan Cooper. Cooper himself sits in on “Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine,” trading whirling violin siroccos and dizzying ostinato switchbacks with Haas.
On “Amanda’s Reel,” Matt Witler’s liquid mandolin is swept up in the cross-hatching of Bronwyn Keith-Hynes’ zigzag fiddle and Cody’s bubbling banjo. Propelled by Grant Gordy’s tangy, atonal acoustic guitar, the breezy front-porch swing of “Golden Eagle Hornpipe” is overtaken by Hargreaves’ cheerful sea shanty bowing. Cody’s composition “Stompin’ Time” is a loose-knit skein of Lincoln Meyers’ stuttering locomotive guitar, Anger’s pirouetting fiddle, and Cody’s jostling buckboard banjo.
Cody may curate, but in the true homespun spirit of roots music, all fiddlers and players contribute to the arrangements of these spellbinding instrumental gems. This free and easy exchange of ideas and energy contributes to the inventiveness and diffident genius of the performances, making The Cooper Sessions more than just a showcase of accomplished bow work or a salute to a fine instrument maker.
It’s a celebration of the companionship and joy of playing.