A final farewell
The man with a big smile, a gifted bowing arm, the ever-present jaunty hat and a heart full of music died January 23. Art Stamper, known for his Appalachian fiddle style, worked and recorded with the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, Larry Sparks and Jim & Jesse. A member of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, Art received the International Bluegrass Music Association's Distinguished Achievement Award last year.
Cancer took him before we were ready to let him go, but he left a parting gift. Wake Up Darlin' Corey is a lively recording of old-time songs played the way they are meant to be played. Harry Bickel, Stamper's friend for 40 years, visited Art in the hospital during a round of chemotherapy. When Art suggested this project, Doc Hamilton flew in from Texas to help his friend of thirty years. The love these men have for one another and for old-time music is evident on every cut.
After the instrumental tracks were laid down, Tim O'Brien added five vocal tracks. The original keys were not always comfortable for O'Brien, but he stretched his range and made them work. In a strange way, it makes the release sound more authentic, as though he had stopped by and found a few buddies pickin' on the back porch. The result is a perfect blending of sparse instrumentation and an occasional vocal.
Doc Hamilton's guitar is steady, subtle support and Harry Bickel's banjo is the perfect underpinning for the classically homespun Stamper style. I especially enjoyed Hamilton's work on "Blackjack Grove" and "Possum Up a Simmon Tree," and Bickel's contribution on "Hickory Jack" and "Sweet Dixie." O'Brien is at his best on the title cut and a melancholy "Lorena."
I asked former Louisville Music News editor Jean Metcalfe for her opinion and she said, "To me, every song is a jewel, but I'll have to admit that my favorite is `Lorena.' Kudos to all the extremely talented musicians and a special nod to Harry Bickel, who continues to be one of bluegrass music's best friends. This fourteen-song compilation deserves five stars."
The liner notes say Vince Gill happened to be in the studio as Stamper showcased his unique artistry for the last time. Gill sat on the floor, closed his eyes and enjoyed the session. Although you and I were not as fortunate as Vince, we can achieve considerable listening pleasure from Stamper's farewell recording. Well miss you, Art. Rest in peace. Thanks for sharing your music with us.
For more information, check out www.artstamper.com.