To paraphrase local songwriter Carl Jones, veteran Triangle musicians Jan Johansson and Rick Brockner have burned their maps, ’cause they’re tired of traveling. Johansson, the fiddler, followed his love of bluegrass from Sweden to North Carolina, where he spent several years with New Vintage, the area’s most successful bluegrass band for a dozen years. Brockner, on dulcimer, learned plenty about traveling in the New York and Raleigh-based Howling Brothers, exploring folk rock, jam grass and experimental music. Now grounded with their families, Brockner and Johansson have lost none of their love for making music, as demonstrated by their strikingly original CD, Fiddlin’ With a Dulcimer.
As Brockner refocused on the dulcimer post-Howling Brothers, the idea developed of making new music based in tradition with Johansson, who had taught music to Brockner’s son. On Fiddlin’ With a Dulcimer the pair sometimes, as on the title track, explores themes drawn from traditional tunes. At other times, they delve into quite original expressions, especially the enchanting “Ride in the Sonlight.” All the tunes receive co-composer credits. People familiar with both artists can have fun guessing from whom came the idea for each.
Johansson and Brockner demonstrate a more stately precision of musicianship than often associated with lap dulcimer or fiddle. Often the interplay of the fiddle, carrying most of the melodic load, and the dulcimer, handling rhythm and counterpoint, proves exceptional. Secular Southern roots music was made for dancing; Johansson and Brockner combine concepts from that rich repository with their own expressions to create exquisite listening. The lovely music on this far too short CD is not bluegrass, old time or folk. Although I expect all these instrumental tunes evolved through jamming, they exhibit ideas as fully realized as one would expect from formal compositions. Fiddlin’ With a Dulcimer will appeal strongly to anyone who enjoys the classical-roots fusion music of Yo-Yo Ma and Mark O’Connor. The album is currently available at the N.C. Museum of History gift shop.