Peter Croft – Button Box Breakdown

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins

Button Box Breakdown is a collection of American Old Time or Mountain Music, Bluegrass and Western Swing tunes, played on the Cajun accordion. The Cajun accordion is a single row diatonic accordion, different from the standard multi row versions played in Irish, English and European Folk Music. Peter Croft has been playing traditional music since the late 60s, he was inspired to take up the melodeon after seeing Tony Hall and a discovery of Cajun music in the mid 70s led to his protracted love affair with the Cajun Accordion. This album, recorded with Mark Jones on guitar and Hazel Fairbairn, fiddle and violin, at the Pump Room studios in Louth Lincolnshire, is the end of a process stretching back 46 years, to record Mountain Music fiddle tunes played on the Cajun accordion.

“Squirrel Hunters” a tune traced back to Civil War Pennsylvania is a fine opener. A duet between Peter’s Accordion and Mark’s guitar, both are impeccably recorded, with the percussive sounds of the instruments adding to the sound of the room as both musicians share breaks. “New Oklahoma Rag” is a tune recorded during Bob Wills’ first recording session in 1935 and as such is pure Western Swing. Peter’s arrangement makes use of some syncopation as the Jazz tinged Swingers did. “Done Gone” is played by Mark with his multi tracked guitar. The tune flows beautifully, but his fingers are flying to make it sound that effortless. “Swannanoa Waltz / Stambaugh Waltz” are a pair of gracefully played waltz tunes. The tunes are carried by all three players with Hazel double tracking fiddle and viola. The title track for the collection is penned by Peter, merging Celtic and American music. The tune and the distinctive tones of the accordion and the fiddle make for great listening. “Creole Blues” is a haunting tune played by Hazel on what sounds like two fiddles, with some of the bowed notes being particularly atmospheric. “Dinah” is a lively tune alive with the infectious spirit of Cajun music. Peter and Mark manage to sound like a band, with the low notes of the guitar becoming an anchoring stand up bass over which the accordion and the picking and strumming fly, this is real dance music. “Layfayetter / Trouble Trouble” is another lively tune with the great accents and flourishes from Peter and Mark. “Scotland”, despite the title is a 1958 Bill Monroe tune that acknowledges the migration that provided the roots of Old Time and Bluegrass. I don’t think it’s fanciful to supposed that the drone notes of the fiddle and the accordion and the fast picking on the guitar suggest the characterful playing of the bagpipes. “Port Arthur Blues” is a Cajun not Old Time or Mountain Music, but is included as a revisit of Peter, Mark and Hazel’s time playing together in the 80s.”Caterpillar Valley / Speed The Plough” are in memory of Peter’s grandfather Albert Croft who fought, as part of the 2nd Suffolk regiment, at the Somme. Peter respectfully dedicates it to the memory of Albert who came back, wounded and all those who didn’t. Indeed the catalogue number of the album commemorates Albert and the date of the attack where he was wounded within the Battle Of The Somme. The two tunes are Caterpillar Valley, a Croft tune named for the trench where the British troops mustered before the attack and “Speed The Plough”, the regimental march of the 2nd Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. This closing set is played by Peter with all the focus on his glorious, rich, dancing and full bodied accordion. This is not dance music, there is a sombreness to the first tune, with a prouder step to the second tune, celebrating the survivors decimated but not defeated, marching, fading into the distance.

This is a rich labour of love, fiercely, passionately played with grace, energy and always with bounce and life. It is beautifully recorded and well presented, extensive sleeve notes from Peter with photos and illustrations, make this a rewarding documentary as well as an interesting musical journey through the music of The Blue Ridge Mountains depicted on the cover of the album. Like many Birnam releases this is fine music, perfectly played and impeccably put together with attention given to all and every aspect, would that you could say that about every album release.