“Sarah Wilfong is a terrific multi-style violinist who has great technique, great time, and above all, fabulous musicianship. I love to hear her play fiddle tunes, or anything else, for that matter!” -Matt Glaser, Wayfaring Strangers; Artistic Director, American Roots Program, Berklee College of Music
I get asked all the time what the difference is between a violin and a fiddle. My answer varies (based on the age and sincerity of the asker) between, "A violin has strings and a fiddle has strangs," "About $30K," and "Nothing, it's all in how you play it." While all of these answers could be true, the last one is the one I identify with the most and is therefore reserved for young children and sweet old ladies.
This album may have a bit of a stylistic identity crisis, though my friend Will hit the nail on the head when I was telling him about it. Me: "Well, of course there are a few Irish tunes, but then there's this swing thing, and a few waltzes, and an old-timey bit, and..." Will: "Right. It's Sarah music. I get it." Apparently I'm weird enough to rate my own musical category. I can work with that!
So is this a violin album or a fiddle album? Strings or strangs? I think of it as some of both, but you can decide for yourself. And whatever you decide, I hope you enjoy the diversity- I do!
1. The Robbin’s Beek / Angeline the Baker
I wrote The Robbin’s Beek for my dear friends Will Robbins and Alethea Beeker as a wedding gift, and then recruited Will to play mandolin on the recording. Angeline is a classic old-time tune that to me, sounds exactly like friends having a grand time together. Which is quite true, in this case!
Sarah Wilfong, fiddle; Frances Cunningham, Irish bouzouki; Al Goll, dobro; Will Robbins, mandolin
2. Creaky Pine
This tune was inspired by a cross country skiing excursion with my friend Isaac Alderson, during which we were convinced there were monsters in the woods about to eat us because of the horrible creaking and moaning sounds that followed us everywhere we went. I was both relieved and disappointed to learn it was just the trees. Mustang Sally breathed new life into this tune with an outstanding arrangement, and I am delighted that they joined me in the studio for this one.
Sarah Wilfong, fiddle; Mandy Holbert, electric bass; Lisa Romeo, drums; Rachel Solomon, piano and accordion; Jake Taylor, electric guitar; Brenda Zitzman, acoustic guitar
My sister Erica recently married a handsome German fellow, moved to Heidelberg, and had a beautiful baby girl named Emma. I borrowed the Polish dance form of the Mazurka for this tune, and arranged it in the 1930’s French Musette (cafe music) style. Clearly a German-American baby needs a French Mazurka. Right…?
Sarah Wilfong, violin; Wes Langlois, guitar; Chris Miller, bass; Will Robbins, mandolin; Rachel Solomon, accordion; Erin Turner, clarinet
4. Premonition / The Old Blackthorn Stick / Planxty Burton, or Burton’s Bounce
Premonition is for Rob Middleton, who shares my love of slow sad tunes. The Old Blackthorn Stick is a traditional tune that is typically played faster, but I love how it rambles when it’s just a little slower. Burton’s Bounce was written for my lifelong friend Sara, when she married her high school sweetheart and became Mrs. Burton.
Sarah Wilfong, fiddle; Frances Cunningham, Irish bouzouki; Joe Giotta, bodhran
5. Limple Twiddles
One night Kristin and I had a little too much Scotch, and began discussing the merits of simple, lilting, twin fiddles. “Simple, lilting, twin fiddles” rapidly became “limple twiddles”, which was a title just begging for a tune. Happily, we were able to deliver. (Matt Glaser, this one’s for you!)
Sarah Wilfong, violin; Kristin Weber, violin; Joe Giotta, drums; Wes Langlois acoustic guitar; Chris Miller upright bass
6. Patchwork Heart
My sister Adrienne wrote this beautiful piano piece, and didn’t mind at all when I wanted to add a violin part. I think the result is quite lovely.
Sarah Wilfong, violin; Adrienne Wilfong, piano
7. Annabelle Greene
On Halloween night, 2011, I woke up around 3 in the morning, grabbed some paper, and wrote down the song that I had been dreaming. When I looked at it later that day, it actually made sense and seemed interesting, if a bit dark. I instantly thought of Kristin’s voice for its haunting ethereal quality, and Joe upped the cool factor of this song by playing a bicycle wheel in lieu of a cymbal.
Kristin Weber, lead vocals; Sarah Wilfong, fiddle and harmony vocals; Joe Giotta, drums; Wes Langlois acoustic guitar; Chris Miller upright bass
8. Palmer’s Gate/ Boys of Mallin / The Eggplant
I learned Palmer’s Gate from my Boston fiddle buddy Cara Frankowicz, and bonded with Frances over love of this tune. Boys of Mallin is a popular session tune, and I wrote The Eggplant in honor of a particularly fine eggplant casserole my violin teacher Enid Cleary made one night.
Sarah Wilfong, fiddle; Frances Cunningham, Irish bouzouki
9. Martin Wynne’s
In the grand tradition of classical composers everywhere (Dvorak? Copland, anyone?), I took an Irish tune and expanded upon it. The result is a fiddle-ish string quartet, with plenty of room for everyone’s unique voices.
Sarah Wilfong, violin; Kristin Weber, violin; Brittany Haas, 5-string violin; Emily Nelson, cello
10. Sketchbook Waltz
This piece was written for Vanderbilt University’s original production, Juggleville III: Catch-a-Sketch. My mom insisted that I put it on this album, so I did a little rearranging (including roping my dad into playing trombone!) and away we went. I consider this to be composed in the widely recognized Creepy Circus style.
Sarah Wilfong, violin and viola; Joe Giotta, drums; Wes Langlois acoustic guitar; Chris Miller upright bass; George Pierce, mandolin; Rachel Solomon, accordion and keyboard; W. David Wilfong, trombone
11. The Devil’s Fruit Stand
So the Devil went down to Georgia, and Johnny kicked his butt. The Devil goes back to Hell, only to find he is now the laughing stock of the the underworld. So he does the only thing he can think to do: open a roadside fruit stand, selling really scary looking and worse smelling fruit. So the next time you see a little old man at a fruit stand, be careful! Because you never know…
Sarah Wilfong, fiddle; Mandy Holbert, electric bass; Lisa Romeo, drums; Rachel Solomon, piano; Jake Taylor, acoustic guitar; Brenda Zitzman, acoustic guitar
12. Angeline the Baker, reprise
I was driving home from teaching one evening, and between one breath and the next I had a stunning vision: dozens of fiddlers- students and professionals- all playing Angeline the Baker together in a Fiddle Mob. Once the vision hit, I knew this had to happen. And so my friends- both professionals and students- gathered at the recording studio, and we made magic. Seriously, this is what music is all about.
Fiddle Mob: Sarah Wilfong, Simon Lowen, Laurel McKay, Wesley Smail, Isla Tarleton, Bill Verdier, Kristin Weber Frances Cunningham, Irish bouzouki