For generations, practitioners of that uniquely American art form known variously as old-time or string-band music – progenitor of country, precursor to bluegrass – have labored in obscurity, their talents unrecognized, their provenance maligned. The men of Tangleweed are proud to uphold that tradition.
Their personal histories, while colorful, bear witness to the manifold hardships and hard-scrabble existences so commonly borne by folk artists. Only one was educated on the Continent. Most were forced to leave college after graduation.
Like most such groups, Tangleweed typically performs at drinking establishments and other communal gathering places, where ordinary people come to wash away the trials and tribulations of their workaday lives. Such venues are far removed from the niceties of the concert hall. Yet they testify to the formative influence that context can exert on performance style. How easily does the plaintive keening of Tangleweed’s vocal harmonies rise above the whine of milk frothers and espresso machines. How cleanly do their finger-picked melodies cut through the din of mobile telephones and personal computing devices.
Tangleweed’s repertoire, which encompasses traditional fiddle tunes, African-American blues, rags, and stomps, was born in the rich soil of the rural agrarian South. Unlettered and without formal training, its originators gave rise to a deeply expressive musical idiom that spoke for and to a vast, poverty-stricken community of Euro- and African-Americans, for whom such music functioned first and foremost as an accompaniment to social dance. Tangleweed is proud to claim this rich cultural legacy, without in any way sharing in it.
Relieved of the burden of authenticity, unencumbered by troublesome notions of historical accuracy or, indeed, of personal accountability, the men of Tangleweed are free to pursue their own startlingly original interpretive impulses. So does a great tradition reinvent itself, often beyond all recognition.