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There stands a fellow, over yonder, he looks just like he wants to ponder - Uncle Dave Macon, I've Got The Mourning Blues

Author Topic: Dan Gellert--Waitin' On The Break Of Day,  (Read 2470 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Dan Gellert--Waitin' On The Break Of Day,
« on: March 17, 2005, 11:53:07 PM »
PROGRAM:  Eph Got a Coon; Policeman; Mary Blane; De Boatman Dance; Going Across the Sea; Cluck Old Hen; Polly Put the Kettle On; The Hog-Eyed Man; Buckdancer's Choice; Cotton-Eyed Joe; Sandy Boys; Jimmy Crack Corn; Old Bunch of Keys; We'll All Go to Heaven When the Devil Goes Blind; Old Christmas Morning; Pateroller Get You/Old Sledge

I have not been able to stop listening to this new Dan Gellert CD since purchasing it from him a couple of weeks ago.  Dan Gellert is something of an underground legend in the Old Time music community, and the fact that he does not often make the round of fiddler's conventions and is severely under-recorded adds a heightened interest to discussions of his music and musicianship.  On this, his first solo recording project, Dan sings and plays fretless banjo on nine cuts and fiddle on seven cuts.  The notes on the CD are brief and to the point, presenting the tunings employed on his gut-strung and steel-strung banjos and his fiddle on the various tunes and providing sources for the tunes, choosing not to include biographical information that might go to explain how Dan got to where he is today musically.  After listening to the CD repeatedly, all I can say is that however Dan got to where he is musically today, he is THERE, right now, and there can be no question about it.

As a player, both on fretless banjo and fiddle, Dan Gellert hits the ground improvising.  He has in spades that most mysterious of skills of the great Old Time players:  the ability to spin a seemingly endless skein of variations on a tune while still always being recognizably playing the tune.  The variations can take many forms--stretching or compressing the phrasing, taking a three or four-note cell and turning it over and over, or simply droning away while messing with the time.  This ability, combined with a taste for the notes that fall between the piano keys, makes for an improvised music of tremendous richness and excitement.  Dan has said in an interview in Fiddler magazine that his instinct is for the Blues in Old Time music, and that influence can be heard throughout the program.

Two banjos, both fretless are used on the recording.  One, strung with gut strings, is tuned about a fourth low; the other, with steel strings is tuned more or less to standard pitch.  Dan's banjo-playing here is astonishingly good and varied.  "Policeman", tuned low, is just mean and nasty--ominous, with that grungy flat five note running through it.  "De Boatman Dance" is joyful, with masterfully controlled brushed triplets.  "Buckdancer's Choice" is a nice guitar tune, but here makes a superlative banjo tune, with a feeling of constantly flipping over and inverting itself like the music of some African mbira masters.  "Cotton-Eyed Joe" may be the best of the bunch.  Listening to these renditions made me get out some of my favorite recordings of Old Time banjo: Fred Cockerham playing "Long Steel Rail" and "Little Maggie", Glen Smith playing "Polly Put the Kettle On" and "Old Jimmy Sutton", Hobart Smith doing "The Cuckoo Bird" or "Cindy".  What I found after listening to these recordings was that Dan Gellert's performances on this CD live comfortably in that company.  I can think of no higher praise.

Dan's fiddling has a big sound, with a lot of bow in it.  The articulation of the bow changing directions is a rhythmic keystone of his fiddle style, and he takes full advantage of the fact that fiddle has no frets, utilizing bluesy slides, and passing through or landing on notes not exactly in the scale.  A number of the performances, such as "Cluck Old Hen" and "Old Bunch of Keys" have a kind of epic quality, they go through so many changes.  Others, like "We'll All Go to Heaven When the Devil Goes Blind", have a kind of peaceful drawling way about them.

Dan's singing has a lot of character to it, with a bright kind of trebly tone, though not particularly high-pitched, and an unself-conscious, "go for it", sort of attitude.  He sounds like he has been listening to this music for years and years, and it is fully inside him now.  One compliment I would pay to his singing is that it has really made me pay attention to the lyrics of the tunes, which in many cases are weird, nutty and mysterious.  They have a lot in common with the early lyrics of Blind Lemon Jefferson, where there was no unifying theme to a song's words, and it just seemed like some kind of free-associated remembrance of turns of phrase and folksy adages.

It is tremendously exciting to hear music played by a present-day musician in this style that compares favorably with the great recorded performances of the past.  It is a real hope-inspiring thing, and makes me feel like we don't have to assume that nothing musical will ever be as good as it was in the past.  Dan Gellert has recorded a wonderful CD here, and I hope it will not be too long before he records another.  I think we need to hear what he has to say.
All best,
« Last Edit: April 21, 2010, 06:39:24 PM by Johnm »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Dan Gellert--Waitin' On The Break Of Day,
« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2005, 07:13:55 AM »
Thanks for the review, John. For anyone who wants to check out some audio samples from the CD, you can find some at Dan Gellert's website,, including Eph Got a Coon, Buckdancer's Choice, and We'll All Go to Heaven When the Devil Goes Blind. The loading of the audio samples takes a little while but is worth it. They're freakin' great! (John said it so much more eloquently.)

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Dan Gellert--Waitin' On The Break Of Day,
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2005, 05:40:48 PM »
I received this CD yesterday, and like John says in his review, I can't stop listening to it. I think it's spun through the CD player a good 9 or 10 times in its entirety and more for some individual tracks. It's rare that I just start a CD over again when it's done. I'm sure I am driving the family bonkers. After this brief, if intense, listening period, I think I can say this is one of the best contemporary CDs of traditional music - including blues, old-time, folk, whatever - that I have bought in years. It's really just one of the coolest things I've heard. If you have even the remotest interest in solo banjo and solo fiddle you need to get this record. You need to get it even if you don't have an interest, because I can't imagine anyone into any kind of traditional music not enjoying this. John's right, this record is very much informed by the blues, and the notes between the cracks. Every track is thrilling. There is not a moment where my interest, and excitement, flags. I've been going through it to try and pick some stand-out tracks to mention and it's damn hard. On banjo: Cotton-Eyed Joe, Going Across the Sea (god, this is beautiful), Policeman, De Boatman Dance, and I never thought I'd say this but Jimmy Crack Corn rocks. On fiddle: Cluck Old Hen is just the shiznit (thanks for the word, Frank), The Hog-Eyed Man, We'll All Go To Heaven When The Devil Goes Blind, Pateroller Get You. They're all great and mentioning one does injustice to another. I'll be ordering more copies to give to friends.



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