Introducing Hot Mustard!6 September 2011
Once upon a time, I was walking across the fairgrounds at Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival. It was late in the fest and a maple glazed doughnut and some aspirin was about all I was up for. Then I heard it: a woman’s voice wafting across the field, singing some bluegrass standard in a way that I had only heard on old recordings. You could say that she was belting it out, except her singing had as much color and warmth as it had raw power. I found myself galloping past the concession stands. When I got to where I could see the stage, I discovered Hot Mustard, a group from the frozen north (its members live in New Hampshire and Vermont).
Flash forward a couple of years, and Hot Mustard are going stronger than ever. This summer, they played a number of dates around New England. It’s time that the wider world got to know them, so I’m wrasslin’ up a new series of Ye Olde Performers Showcase featuring this fine quartet. Here’s a quick getting-to-know-you installment that features a performance from last winter’s Joe Val Bluegrass Festival.
If I close my eyes and open my ears, Hot Mustard’s sound is just as natural as a mountain stream or a Stanley Brothers hymn. But when I take a look— dang! Double banjos, rhythm guitar and bass is their default set-up, with Bill Jubett only occasionally trading his banjo for a fiddle. I need hardly point out that this is not your standard bluegrass line-up. Then there is the gender distribution. While a number of the top bluegrass acts are fronted by women, there remains a substantial testosterone imbalance in the genre as a whole. Not so with Hot Mustard, however, which maintains a perfect male/female equilibrium.
The group is, in fact, comprised of two couples. The Stockwells— that would be bassist Kelly and banjoist Bruce Stockwell— have been married for some time, but the Jubetts— lead vocalist April and banjoist/fiddler Bill Jubett— just tied the knot within the last month.
I had the Jubett nuptials in mind when I chose the band’s performance of “Elkhorn Ridge” as the tune to accompany this first showcase installment. April mentions that she listened to a lot of Kate Brislin and Jody Stecher growing up, and I assume she learned “Elkhorn Ridge” from Brislin and Stecher’s fine recording from twenty years ago. As rendered by that duo, this traditional number is an unalloyed paean to flat-out, head-over-heels love. To wit, it contains a verse that consists of just this:
Crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy
Darlin’, I’m crazy about you
The rest of the stanza is AWOL, as if the singer has indeed plum lost his or her mind. Who can argue with that sentiment?
Here’s wishing the newlyweds all the crazy love they can stand. As for the rest of you, check back for more Hot Mustard in the coming weeks.
Yer Pal— Curly
Addendum for the Late Edition: This just in from Richard Hamilton: “Elkhorn Ridge is generally attributed to Oscar Wright, a fiddler/banjo player from Princeton, WV. There are some recordings of his playing available. His version of Elkhorn on banjo looks like it is on Clawhammer Banjo Vol 2. from County.” Thanks, Rich!