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MIXTAPE: High Fidelity’s Traveling Music

Jun 8, 2020

MIXTAPE: High Fidelity's Traveling Music

While High Fidelity is known for representing a specific niche in the bluegrass music landscape from the 1950s and early ‘60s, each member brings a diverse palate of musical tastes and styles. This playlist is a fine example of some of the diverse listening one might hear on our travels. Some of us remember making mixtapes of our favorite songs and tunes in the days of the cassette. Well, our van still has a cassette player in it! I hope you’ll enjoy listening to some of the music that inspires us, and maybe I should run off a tape of this for our next trip! — Jeremy Stephens, High Fidelity

Flatt & Scruggs – “Earl’s Breakdown”

This is probably the first song that really lit a fire under me to love and play bluegrass music. I first heard it on a red 8-track tape. I was absolutely drawn to Earl’s banjo playing and the famous section of the song where he tunes the second string down a whole step and then brings it right back up. Honestly though, the part of the tune that tore me up and still tears me up is Everett Lilly’s mandolin break. When I first heard that break, I thought it was the most incredible thing ever. Still is the best 15 seconds of mandolin playing on record. — Kurt Stephenson

Don Reno – “Coffee Cup”

I love “Coffee Cup,” because it showcases Don Reno’s banjo playing and creativity to the max. Though Reno didn’t write the song, he had a masterful arrangement of it. I believe it demonstrates nearly every signature technique that is unique to Don Reno. Each solo (they’re all banjo solos) is an adventure, and a fun one at that! — KS

Lonesome River Band – “Say I Do”

I always credit Lonesome River Band with sparking my interest in contemporary bluegrass sounds. My first LRB album was One Step Forward and my favorite song on the album is “Say I Do.” I love the groove, the harmonies, the chord structure, and especially the musical groove. Kenny Smith plays an incredible and beautiful guitar solo, which is followed by a banjo solo from Sammy Shelor. That particular banjo solo taught me so much about dynamics; especially in regards to coming out of a solo and leading in to the vocal. — KS

Reno & Smiley – “Country Boy Rock ‘N Roll”

I’m a country boy and I like to rock and roll, so this song fits. I remember picking up the album that included this song at a flea market when I was about 12 or 13, and it was my very first introduction to Reno & Smiley. — Daniel Amick

Tim O’Brien – “Wind”

I like this song because it’s a good song. It speaks to my soul. We have wind at my house. — DA

Punch Brothers – “Boll Weevil”

As a farmer sometimes I deal with crop failure, bugs, and drought. The goal is of course to problem solve and see beyond the failures to the success just on the other side, but seeing this as a story from the bug’s perspective is pretty interesting. — DA

Jim & Jesse – “Did You Ever Go Sailing”

The In the Tradition album by Jim & Jesse is the first album I remember consciously listening to, the first instance I remember understanding what an album was and what it meant to be an artist. When I would go to 3-year-old preschool, I listened to this on cassette continually and just wore the tape out. My first favorite song was this one. I still love everything about that album and this song! Glen Duncan’s fiddling, Allen Shelton’s banjo playing, and of course Jesse’s mandolin playing are just the cream of the crop, with the added bonus of Roy Huskey Jr. on upright bass. Jim is featured here singing lead on the verses and jumping to harmony on the choruses, making for an all-around awesome arrangement! — Corrina Rose Logston

Red Smiley & the Bluegrass Cut-Ups – “It’s Raining Here This Morning”

Tater Tate’s fiddling has been a huge influence on me, and it’s something I go back to over and over again for inspiration. This particular cut features Tater front and center just wearing it out! I love a song in the key of F like this, and this cut is just exceptional. Red Smiley’s flawless lead singing is like golden drops of honey. Billy Edwards’s playing out of open F on the banjo is the epitome of my happy place. It just doesn’t get much better than this for me! — CRL

Sarah Siskind – “Lone Tree”

It might surprise fans of High Fidelity that most of my “newer” music listening is outside the realm of traditional bluegrass. In fact, outside of the High Fidelity setting, my own solo artistry and songwriting is like a musical amalgam drawn from many diverse sources throughout my life. I love Sarah Siskind’s artistry and draw so much inspiration from her music. It’s hard to pick favorites but this particular song is pretty high up on the list for me! And, fun fact, Jeremy Stephens was staying with Sarah’s mom and dad the year that Jeremy and I met each other at SPBGMA in 2009! — CRL

Homer & Jethro – “Tennessee, Tennessee”

I knew I wanted to include a Homer & Jethro number, but I didn’t know just which one. I’ve always admired their ability to integrate belly laugh-inducing lyrics to some serious mandolin precision. “Tennessee, Tennessee” is one that I’ve always wanted me and Corrina to cover. That last verse makes me lol every time. — Vickie Vaughn

Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott – “Walk Beside Me”

This is the opening song to my desert island record. I just need one and this record, Real Time, is IT. That GROOVE, though. I’ve listened to this song at least a hundred times and the repeating mandolin hook paired with the mandola toward the end of it makes me feel like I. CAN. DO. ANYTHING. Thanks for that confidence, Tim & Darrell. — VV

Jim Oblon (with Larry Goldings & Jim Keltner) – “Copperhead”

I’ve known Jim for a while. I met him here in Nashville before I even knew what he was musically capable of. Friends later told me that he was Paul Simon’s drummer. Now we’re old friends and I try to be cool when I see him now and again at the gym and I try to refrain from nerding out over yet another musical discovery I had while listening to his records. Get a load of this RIFF on “Copperhead.” Not showcased on this recording is Jim’s incredible vocal prowess. Make sure you take time to find a song of his to hear that. You’re welcome. — VV

Kilby Snow – “Close By”

I’ve loved the autoharp since my Mamaw got me one for my sixth birthday from the secondhand store she worked at. I didn’t start playing it seriously until I saw my banjo mentor, Troy Brammer, playing autoharp when I was in my early teens. I’ve gone quite a few years without playing it seriously, but since we’ve all been shut in at home, I’ve been playing autoharp almost exclusively around the house for a couple months now. My favorite of all the autoharp players is Kilby Snow from Grayson County, Virginia. He played autoharp left-handed upside down, and did these open-bar “drag” notes to make it sound like the roll on a five-string banjo. This is a great Bill Monroe number played by Kilby on the harp, and it’s one I’ve found myself playing quite a bit lately. I learned to play his style right handed from his son Jim when I visited him in Oxford, Pennsylvania, in 2006. — JS

United Sacred Harp Convention – “Sherburne 186”

I first heard sacred harp shape-note singing on a 78 RPM record at Kinney Rorrer’s home. Kinney is a serious record collector and has been a mentor to me in the history of old time music. After first hearing the singing on that 78, I was hooked, and I couldn’t get enough of Sacred Harp. I learned to read and sing the shape notes and listened to many recordings of Sacred Harp conventions. Of all my listening, this recording of this tune has stood out to me, and I wanted to include it here. Hope y’all like it! — JS

Reno & Smiley and the Tennessee Cut-Ups – “Mountain Church”

There is no set of recordings that I have returned to over and over for more than 20 years, except for Reno & Smiley’s 1953 and early 1954 recordings. The tone, feel, playing, and singing of these 24 sides sum up everything that I really love about Reno & Smiley’s corner of bluegrass music. This era of their work has greatly informed what I bring to the table stylistically with High Fidelity. “Mountain Church” is one of my favorites of Reno & Smiley and we perform it occasionally in High Fidelity. — JS

Photo credit: Amy Richmond

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MIXTAPE: High Fidelity's Traveling Music
MIXTAPE: High Fidelity's Traveling Music