When: Wed., July 27, 7 p.m. 2016
WEDNESDAY, JUL. 27
BLACK TWIG PICKERS
Old-time music boasts a particular, intoxicating charm. It's a corner of the folk world that revels in its creaks and cobwebs, with minor-key harmonies and fiddle licks that make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. The music is often as goosebump-inducing as it is gorgeous, separating itself from the pristine precision that gilds bluegrass and other acoustic styles.
The Black Twig Pickers are among the finest contemporary purveyors of old-time tunes, but the four-piece outfit is hardly tied to the prewar traditions that tend to govern the genre. The band's most recent LP, last year's Seasonal Hire, found the Pickers in cahoots with guitarist Steve Gunn. There, Gunn's warm, drifting style melds beautifully with the Pickers' intricate work: the sharp guitar picking of Isak Howell, the percussive clawhammer strokes of Nathan Bowles's banjo, the moans and yowls of fiddles in the hands of Sally Anne Morgan and Mike Gangloff. Springy jaw harp interjections make for quixotic, delightful little finishes.
Live, the Black Twig Pickers can go off on improvisational spirals that are utterly captivating as they unfurl. Old-time music relies heavily on community, with players convening to jam and improvise together for hours on end. But this sort of improvisation almost never gets the same high-minded consideration as jazz or other experimental improv music might, even if the respective players are equally adept. Those distinctions and false dichotomies don't matter to the Pickers as they push beyond old-time riffing on a theme and into more unorthodox territory. The resulting yarns are mesmerizing as the group dips its toes into drones and rising whirls of stringed sound.
As magnificent as the band's more far-flung moments are, the Black Twig Pickers still excel at the simple sweetness that so often accompanies acoustic music. The Pickers' ability to play the fields of the familiar and the freakish with equal skill is a unique marvel—it's ground as green and fertile as the Duke Gardens turf they'll hold court on Wednesday night. —Allison Hussey
SARAH P. DUKE GARDENS, DURHAM7 p.m., $5–$10 (under 12 free), www.dukeperformances.duke.edu
Price: $5-$10, 12 and under free