Waiting for Nancy:
Old-Time Country Duets.
Curt Bouterse and Bob Webb
Bouterse and Bob Webb met in 1968. Both started out as musicians in the West Coast folk revival, but their diverse musical
interests, and Bob's eventual move East, resulted in their musical partnership being only a sometime thing. "Diverse" is almost
too pale a word for the paths each has taken. Curt formed a medieval music ensemble, traveled to Bali to explore musical traditions
there, and got a doctorate in world music. Bob went on the road as Tom Waits' bassist, managed a string band in Los Angeles,
and after moving to Massachusetts developed a seminal banjo exhibition for the MIT Museum.
interesting of the instrumentals are the banjo duets. "Waiting for Nancy" and "Bear's Leaving Town" (both written by Curt
in 1978) are exciting listening. Two banjos back up Curt's rendition of "Sweet Sunny South," a perfect setting for Charlie
Poole's wistful song. The last track, a "Reuben's Train"-esque version of "Nine Hundred Miles," features both Curt and Bob
singing, both playing Curt's gourd banjos. This would be a really stunning finish to the album if it wasn't a whopping seven
and a half minutes long. The singing doesn't start until five minutes or so into the track. There's a saying I've seen on
hats and T-shirts: "Old-Time Music - better than it sounds." I believe this track to be a perfect example of that phenomenon.
It must have been fun to play; Curt mentions in the liner notes that they played the tune for 20 minutes, probably inducing
the tune trance that's such a great feature of playing old-time tunes. Sometimes it doesn't translate to listening, though.
more familiar tunes "Seneca Square Dance" and "Mississippi Sawyers" are played as banjo/hammered dulcimer duets. These are
less successful. The instruments are playing in the same pitch range for the most part and the dulcimer's sustain gives a
muddy feeling to the mix, covering the banjo's quicker attack and decay.
Some songs on this CD will
be familiar to listeners. Others are less well known, of greater antiquity, with interesting arrangements. I found a couple
of things distracting, though. Most of the vocals are way in front of the instruments, giving an auditory picture of voices
a few inches away from your ears while the instruments are several feet away. The vocal harmonies, though precisely worked
out in terms of pitch, don't always match the phrasing of the lead vocals.
Special mention needs to
be made of "Texas Rangers.: I remember listening to the New Lost City Ramblers' version; the liner notes also cite Ian and
Sylvia as a source. I have seldom had such vivid pictures in my mind from hearing a song as I had from listening to Bob and
Curt's arrangement, Curt freely echoing Bob's meditative vocal phrases on the hammered dulcimer. This form of emotional punctuation
is common in Indian classical and ghazal singing, which translates to this song with an eerie effectiveness.
the less-well-known songs are "A Long Time Ago," a humorous capstan shanty with concertina accompaniment, "Ticklish Reuben,"
an early-twentieth-century novelty "laughing" song, and "I Only Want a Buddy (Not a Sweetheart)," widely popular in the 1930s,
recorded by Bradley Kincaid and Bing Crosby, among others.
The liner notes are a delight. Scholarly
background information, instrument details, and general musings are imparted with a light touch and a solid sense of humor.
Old-Time Herald, October-November 2008