“Old-time.” The moniker itself seemingly contains eons of musical cross-pollination, generations of aural tradition, lifetimes of carefully and purposefully — and haphazardly and accidentally — passing down the skills, stories, community, and tunes that make up the musical form. A new crop of old-time pickers has been slowly but surely emerging from the tight-knit, often insular (but almost never outright forbidding) ranks of the genre, with a continuing focus on the decades that have come before, but through a new lens. One of reclamation and representation, of mining stories and songs, one of painstakingly undoing the erasure that has prevailed over the history of any/all non-white, non-colonial, non-Christian, non-normative musics in this country.
Tui (pronounced TOO-EE), an old-time duo that includes fiddler Libby Weitnauer and multi-instrumentalist Jake Blount, perfectly epitomizes this new generation, this fiddle + banjo changing of the guard. In title and song roster their upcoming release, Pretty Little Mister, subverts the usual narratives of old-time — whether by turning the staple “Pretty Little Miss” on its gendered ear or by meticulously crediting and tracing back each track’s origins, often to fiddlers and pickers of color and other otherwise underrepresented folks of bygone eras.
“Cookhouse Joe,” the final tune on the album, was originally learned from a late-in-life recording of Kentucky fiddler Estill Bingham. And it’s okay that you might not recognize that name — that you probably will not is almost the entire point of the record. Tui has already done the work for their listeners, putting in the time to make sure that the old-time they create, for years past and the ages to come, tells the whole story of how and by whom this beautiful artistic tradition came to be. And on Pretty Little Mister it’s not only beautiful, it’s so much more.