Tom Robison: The Boy’s Lament For His Dragon

Another stellar effort by a fine folk artist.

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Fiddle and Plucking Harp

Bozeman musician Tom Robison says about his third album, ”basically I play fiddle when I want to get excited, harp when I want to calm me down.”

The super-fiddler/harper stretches his wings on both instruments as he combines traditional Celtic and American compositions in a charming, refreshing mix. Melding the ancient instruments in a new way, he brings back sounds from another time, re-invigorating these jigs, hornpipes, songs, and American folk pieces.

A teacher of the Suzuki violin method, Robison became interested in the harp years ago and prefers performing on it these days. His is a 36-string folk harp, with a standard scale. That means nothing tricky with sharps and flats, which is perfectly suited to these traditionals, which lack unnecessary fancy notes. It’s a sweet sound all around, and there are lots of contrasting rhythms to boot.

“Tailor’s Twist/Wicklow Hornpipe” shows Robison’s harp prowess on succinct, lovely triplets. Several numbers find him playing both instruments (the four works in “Appalachian Medley,” for example), which alternate melody and accompaniment. Some parts are syncopated and complicated, and it’s a pretty good arranging trick, since each instrument was recorded separately.

On Jimmie Rodgers’s country blues, “Waiting for a Train,” Robison adds his soft mid-range baritone voice while fiddle and harp accompany him.

Trips to Scotland and Ireland imbued him with the Celtic folk-singing style, and he adds that flavor to “The Three Gypsies,” an Irish song set to an English ballad’s melody. Too, he injects the Irish singer’s brogue into “The Limerick Rake.” Here the harp sounds sometimes like a dulcimer, at other times it’s bell-like.

And, of course, Robison’s fiddle mastery always works on rags, and “City of Savannah/Peacock Rag” is evidence of that.

This is another stellar effort by a fine folk artist. Pick it up!

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– Mariss McTucker