From Music in Cincinnati

Pops' "American Originals" a Winner

Posted in: 2015
By Mary Ellyn Hutton
Sep 16, 2015 - 1:15:53 PM

Stephen Collins Foster epitomizes the great American songbook.

   John Morris Russell, conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, devotes his fourth album with the orchestra, “American Originals,” to Foster and American roots music. The choice is significant since Foster lived for a time in Cincinnati and the city, strategically placed on the Ohio River, has long been a center of American musical culture.

   Just released on the Fanfare Cincinnati label, it is the 94th album by the Cincinnati Pops and its first-ever live recording, having been recorded at concerts in January, 2015 at Music Hall.

   Heard here are anthems like “My Old Kentucky Home,” classics like “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” and “Beautiful Dreamer” (Foster) and traditional favorites like “Kumbaya,” and “Red River Valley,” all in Technicolor arrangements by Chris Walden, Rob Mounsey, Rebecca Pellett and Timothy Berens.  Featured artists include Rosanne Cash, Aoife O”Donovan, Don Flemons, Joe Henry and Cincinnati based ensembles Over the Rhine (Karin Berquist, vocals, Linford Detweiler, instrumentals) and the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars, house band at the Comet restaurant in Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood.

   And what a treasure it is, opening with a banjo-laced performance of “O! Susannah” with Joe Henry on vocals and closing with an all-stops-pulled “Camptown Races” by the entire company.

   There is real Bluegrass here, as in “Amazing Grace” in a rousing, “picking and strumming” arrangement (Pellett) with O’Donovan and the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars. There is nostalgia aplenty in “Old Folks at Home,” given a Bluegrass tilt before turning jazzy in Berens’ arrangement, performed by Berens and Flemons with lively fiddle solos by Pops violinist Paul Patterson. Composer George Roots’ patriotic “Battle Cry of Freedom” opens with fife and drum. You can savor the big Pops sound in “Red River Valley,” with the Comet Bluegrass All Stars, both arranged by Berens.

   Highlights also include:

   Cash’s stately performance of “My Old Kentucky Home” (Pellett)

   “Rolling River: Sketches on “Shenandoah” by Peter Boyer (which to this listener recalled Bedrich Smetana’s “The Moldau”)

   “Slumber My Darling with O’Donovan on vocals and guitar and a dreamy English horn and cello accompaniment (Walden)

   a swinging “Aura Lee” by George Poulton with Henry and Ed Cunningham of the Comet Bluegrass All Stars (which later morphed into “Love Me Tender” by Elvis Presley)

     the extremely touching “Hard Times Come Again No More” with Over the Rhine (Berens)

      My favorite? “Ring, Ring the Banjo” (Walden) with nimble solos on banjo, bones and fiddle by Flemons and fiddler Ed Cunningham of the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars (a crowd favorite at the January concert).

   In short: Don’t miss this one.    



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