DaddyLongLegs spins out folk, jazz and blues
BRISTOL — Get ready to tap your feet. The irresistibly exuberant music of DaddyLongLegs is now available on CD. The three-man group — banjo player Rick Ceballos, violinist David Gusakov and guitar player Matt Witten — has released the trio’s first CD, entitled simply “DaddyLongLegs.”
Drawn together by a love of roots music, the three musicians have an eclectic sensibility that runs the gamut of musical styles. They have played together as DaddyLongLegs for about three years now, and their repertoire includes 15th century French country dances, 1930s jazz, Celtic folk melodies, Southern old-timey tunes and banjo-pluckin’ numbers from the American minstrel tradition
“We’re omnivorous folkies,” Witten says.
“We’ll play a light classical piece and then go into an Irish reel in a set,” Ceballos adds.
The result is upbeat, whimsical, delightful — and is guaranteed to brush away the blues.
In voraciously combing various musical traditions for their catalogue, Witten emphasizes that “we like to cherry pick ones that are unique and catchy and usually a little bit quirky.”
Part of what anchors the group’s sensibility is Ceballos’s in-depth scouring of the banjo repertoire and research into the history of the banjo, an instrument central to the West African griot storyteller tradition brought to America on slave ships.
“The early minstrel music, that’s got African roots, some of the other early banjo stuff has African roots, the early jazz has African roots. So there’s this strain of Africa that comes to us through the banjo that really flavors a lot of what we do,” Ceballos says. “You see elements of it in all forms of music — jazz, rock, blues. It’s just there in all forms.”
Not surprisingly, syncopation — that skip-happy, gotta-dance, “ragged” rhythm — is a key element in many DaddyLongLegs tunes.
Part of the group’s energy also comes from bringing together performers from different backgrounds and traditions. Gusakov is a classically trained violinist who also performs with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. Witten traces his musical roots to environmental rabble rousing aboard Pete Seeger’s Hudson River sloop Clearwater, a replica 19th century river vessel that Seeger built to promote environmental education and activism. Ceballos started out as a blue grass guitarist who “got volunteered to learn the banjo.” All three of them play with a variety of small groups across the state in addition to DaddyLongLegs.
The new CD dances artfully amongst these disparate traditions, with Gusakov on violin, viola and vocals; Witten on piano, guitar, vocals and percussion; and Ceballos on his range of contemporary through traditional banjos (back to his early banjo replicas), button accordion and vocals.
The CD opens with a medley of Scottish, Irish and Southern old-timey dance tunes. In contrast is the catchy rendition of “Exactly Like You,” a swing tune from “Lew Leslie’s International Review,” a Broadway hit in 1930 that also introduced “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”
The CD features a few original pieces. One, Witten’s tender waltz, “Good Night My Hens,” is the only piece on the CD in 3/4 time. The piece is dedicated to the Witten family’s chicken flock and the Vermont phenomena of getting the chickens locked up for the night.
“Our chicken coop has a little window and it faces the house,” Witten says. “And so every night we see the chickens up on their perch and they’re looking up at the house and we’re looking, looking out from our little, lit up, warm window. They’re in their cold little hen house, and we’re in our nice warm house.”
Ceballos contributed “Last Days of Autumn,” “Twin Bridges” and “Waterworks Solstice.” Ceballos describes the first as a musical tribute to our current dark, gray time of year. The second celebrates the New Haven River, and the third is in honor of Bristol’s annual winter solstice gathering where “we play our pagan tunes,” Ceballos chuckles.
Gusakov’s violin soars through most melodies (for a few he instead picks up the viola), and all are anchored in Witten’s and Ceballos’s playing on guitar, percussion, banjo and the rest.
“This is music that we really wanted to share,” Ceballos says.
To learn more about DaddyLongLegs, visit the trio’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/60rick. You can next hear the group as part of Bristol’s New Year’s Eve celebration, Best Night. For schedule information, go to bestnight.org.
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