CD Review – The Snyder Family – “Stages”
My dear old Grandaddy always gave us this advice: “Never foller kids or critters on the stage ’cause you cain’t compete with ’em.” That’s advice that a lot of performers have gotten, whether it be from grandaddy or mama or whomsuch. The reason is simple: Audiences will always favor kids out of kindness, but not because they deserve it on talent’s sake. It’s much the same as always lettin’ a child win in a game with an elder. It builds confidence and encourages the kids ta try agin and ta try harder.
That’s why I never like reviewin’ a new CD by kids. It’s just not possible to give ’em a fair shot and an honest critique without hurtin’ somebody’s feelin’s. Critiques are not meant to be unkind, but rather to enable a new perspective to be gained fer artistic growth and development. However, there just ain’t nery a good way to say to a child, “This’n is a poor showin’ and should otta not be released.”
Question: Wha’d ya get when ya put two kids and their Pa into a recordin’ studio?
Answer: A good family togetherness project?
To be sure, but do ya get an internationally marketable CD capable of holdin’ up it’s own against public and industry eye-ballin’? Is it fair to put youngsters in a competin’ market and hold ’em up to professional adult standards? Now we’re right back to dear ol’ Grandaddy’s advice. Most of the time kids in this situation git judged by a different standard – one that ain’t around fer them what reached adulthood.
Now put some ears on the latest effort, “Stages”, from the Snyder Family and throw all of that previous caterwaulin’ out the winder. These here young ‘uns and their pa have put together a world-class project. Never you mind their youthful status, these here twenty fingers and dad’s additional ten kin pick on any stage, in any recordin’ studio or in any parkin’-lot jam of their choosin’ and be welcome as rain on a summer day in Desert Valley with a cool breeze ablowin’.
“Stages”, the title cut, was written by 12 year-old Samantha Snyder, a little lady who has competed and won in adult fiddle champeenships, is about her dreams of being a professional entertainer on the mecca of the entertainment world – The Grand Ole Opry. Yessiree, while most gals of only a dozen years would have a hard time writin’ a short essay fer English class and makin’ it interesting fer an adult reader, I’m tellin’ ya, young Miss Samantha has clear composition ability, thought process and rhyme. Ask most youngsters her age to compose a poem and you’ll get enough “moon in June” cliché stuff to run thru yer bailin’ machine and most likely it won’t nearly be comprehensible because the average speakin’ ability of a person so young is too limited to be able to put story and rhyme together beyond just a couple a lines and have it mean anything. “Stages”proves that all of Samantha’s talent don’t just come out of her fiddle bow.
Instrumentally this album rivals any previously recorded work by any group of seasoned veterans or porch pickers . Brother Zeb’s guitar pickin’ is reminiscent of what ya might get if’n you could mix up a cup ‘o Doc Watson, two cups of Tony Rice and a dash er two of Leo Kottke with some flavorin’ from your favorite six string picker to suit and throw it all into one of them kitchen mixer things. Still, Zeb’s flatpickin’ style is beginning to take some shape all his own so’s he don’t sound like nobody but Zeb. I betcha Mr. Monroe would be proud. He’s got him a receipt fer uniqueness you cain’t find in another’s cookbook.
Fer a young man just barely past the minimum age to drive in his home state of North Carolina, he’s well on his way to creatin’ a legacy that other young pickers will emulate fer sure. The next hot young picker that hasn’t yet been born’d will be calling Zeb a guitar guru jist about the time he reaches Zeb’s current age and Zeb will then only be in his early 30-somethings.
Vocally, Zeb handles his duties quite well on J.J. Cale’s “Call Me The Breeze”, while sister Samantha chimes in on the harmony afore takin’ a fiddle break that belies her age. Throughout the song, Samantha demonstrates a know-how of musical arrangement that is oft-times hard put fer adults with much more experience to comprehend. Them little musical nuance things that she puts in between vocals is so tastefully done, that agin, you’d have to provide bon-afide, birth-certificate proof to convince an un-believin’ person of her rightful age.
“Daddy’s Gone”, the first professional recording of Oklahoma songwriter Bill Hallock’s tune, is admirably suitable fer a young girl singer who laments that her daddy’s always gone from home a’working in the mines to feed and shelter his family. The song recalls feelin’s similar to those ya get when ya listen to Loretta Lynn’s biographical “Coal Miner’s Daughter” er watchin’ the movin’ pitcher of the same.
“Wren’z Waltz”, a Glen Alexander writ-tune, is one of the sweetest ever fiddle songs and executed between the fiddle and guitar jist like two old friends who’ve done played the song a thousand times but still ain’t never gonna tire of it. The tendency on a song like this ‘un would be fer the bass player to git over produced, play too many notes and otherwise jist get in the way of the danged song. I had to give ‘er an ear more than once to realize there was a bass in this song. It’s there and it’s there in just the right amount – like pin-stripin’ on a fine automobile, if it’s just right, you don’t see the pin-striping, you see the car. If it’s too much, it’s just plain ol’ ugly and the entire car suffers fer the sake of it. Bud’s bass playin’ on this song is like a harpist’s fine caress on the strings.
But the surprise of the whole kit and caboodle is younger brother Owen, age five – yessiree, that is correct, age five, as in one after four. This little tyke does a guest shot on the vocal fer “Glendy Burke”, a Steven Foster tune about a paddle wheeler named fer the 29th mayor of the city of New Orleans. The song is just so dad-blamed cute the way Owen mispronounces his words, the way ever five-year-old does, that it almost steals yer attention away from the business of critiquin’. But unlike a lot of kids his age who would blunder through it at the insistence of parental pressure, young Owen sounds as if he enjoys his part and executes his timing, meter and melody just like a sure-shot on a rifle range – an old pro. Owen, it seems, ain’t no stranger to the microphone. A pitcher posted on that wiz-bang You-Tube shows Owen in an on-stage guest show-up with his siblings where he directs the crowd on a sing-along part usin’ masterful precision.
Just hearing Owen handle his part with only five years of full-life experience is worth the price of the CD. The rest is all pure tax-free bonus. As good as his brother and sister are, let the world beware, when this sprout matures and decides just what direction he’s gonna take, every agent, manager and record label will be fer darned sure standing in line fer contract signatures.
There once was a idear about remakin’ the Andy Griffith show casting only bluegrass pickers in the various parts. I think the producers may have just found their new Opie.
“Stages” is the Snyder’s second full-length CD fer Mountain Home Records and differs from their first (“Comin’ On Strong”) with an obvious vocal maturity in the kids that comes with ‘nuther year of growin’ up. Otherwise it has about the same feel and temperament in the mix of instrumentals to vocals, old-time fiddle songs to Gospel and tempo variations as their first-ever record.
The dang-hardest thing fer a producer of kids of this age is to find age-appropriate songs. These kids are way too old to enjoy performin’ the “Barney” repertoire, but they ain’t yet lived enough life to be able to handle the emotion in words like “heartbreak”, “troubled mind” or the horde of adult-concepts expressed in a song like “The Great Civil War” – a song from their first record. Even on a song like “Daddy’s Gone”, young Samantha just doesn’t seem to git the feelin’ in the words – but how would she, if she ain’t never had that experience in all her life. It takes a lot more years fer a singer to be able to express in song something they ain’t really yet actually done first hand. This begs the question: Are there any age-appropriate songwriters out thar fer teenagers? Any songs about teenage problems, beyond the “Puppy-Love” songs of the 1950’s Rock and Roll days?
If’n you decide to git “Stages” fer yer collection, you’ll one day disregard any perceived imperfections in them vocalizations or song selections and will relish the treasure you own from some once-upon-a-time young musicians who grew into honored professionals. Meanwhile you’ll be livin’ it up with some first-class pickin’. While yer at it, you ought to go out and git their first CD at the same time and start buildin’ the full collection. You won’t regret it, pardner. The Snyder’s prove that acoustic bluegrass is ageless – both in the spectator and in the performer.