The Idumea Quartet – More Than One

Album Review | Penny Fiddle Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Expressive performances for those who like their string quartet music to swing a little more than that of Schubert.  The Idumea Quartet, comprising Ewan Macdonald and Jane Rothfield on violins, Becka Wolfe on viola and Nathan Bontrager on the big boy, treat their respective instruments to some down home Appalachian folk music, which in turn has a way of lifting your spirits, suitable for any Saturday night barn dance.  The sprawling “Falls of Richmond/Grub Springs” gets the album off to a great start, with a medley of full-bodied tunes and sprightly tempo changes, before the discovery that the quartet are not exclusively an instrumental outfit with a fine reading of the traditional “Silver Dagger” courtesy of Becka Wolfe.  

The much covered “Cluck Old Hen” is given an almost melancholy arrangement here, as too is the traditional “And Am I Born To Die”, each keeping the Old Time and Sacred Harp traditions very much alive and well.  Far from the Appalachians, “Carthy Hoose” began its journey in Martin Carthy’s kitchen in Robin Hood’s Bay, Jane being a long-time pal of the Waterson/Carthy clan, an original tune of imagination and invention.  The bold experimentation found within these songs and tunes speaks for itself, yet it’s with the quartet’s arrangement of Joe Birchfield’s “Sally Ann” that we see the Appalachian folk traditions rubbing shoulders with the minimalist exploits of Terry Riley, with startling effect.