Since 1976, Durham’s Mike Fishback has accomplished the near miracle of keeping together a local old-time string band, the Durham Rangers. That’s a remarkable period of time for a commercially successful ensemble, but downright mind-boggling for a genre that pretty much demands you keep a day job or three. Walltown Reverie celebrates the group’s longevity by including two selections from each of the Durham Rangers’ 10 releases over their 25-year plus career.
As such, Walltown Reverie suggests why the Durham Rangers have hung in so long. Part of the answer lies with variety. Despite their old-time string band tag, the Durham Rangers play also material drawn from blues (“Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning”), bluegrass (“Angel Band”) and Cajun music (“Tous les Soirs”). They even offer a thoroughly idiosyncratic, must-hear version of our national anthem featuring tuba and string band. The other part of the puzzle involves talent. The Durham Rangers have employed such leading lights of the area music scene as Carl Jones, Jon Newlin, Bill Newton and Victor Lukas, and this project even includes two cuts recorded with the late Surry County master musician, Fred Cockerham.
Unfortunately, Walltown Reverie is available only as a cassette tape in this digital age, and the recording quality and level varies from one source to the next. Nonetheless, this is a thoroughly enjoyable release that marks a notable milestone for the Durham Rangers.