GATLINBURG, Tennessee – Folk Music’s most popular and recognizable feature is the three-part harmony that most folk groups enjoy. Some of them carry off this close knit vocal sound better than others, as finding three voices that can carry the harmonies while blending in to sound almost in unison is very difficult.
The Cumberland Trio’s brand of blended harmony is a one in a thousand occurrence, and when knowledgeable listeners first hear them perform, they immediately recognize and appreciate their incredibly smooth and close harmony vocals. Interestingly, despite their ability to sound as one, each of the Trio’s three singing members possesses his own distinctive vocal characteristics. The Trio, with bassist Jim Shuptrine’s guidance, has also arranged complicated crossover harmonies, similar those of the Four Freshman, and incorporated “ninths”, to complement the traditional “thirds”, into their verses and choruses.
The Trio has also blazed new ground instrumentally. Andy Garverick continues his intricate “Scruggs-style” banjo picking, and “Pete Seeger” frailing, even when singing lead verses or harmony choruses, a talent not shared by other folk group banjo players to my knowledge. Tom Kilpatrick plays an almost snare drum sound in a frailing style on his Jose Ramirez Flamenco nylon string guitar that adds a unique syncopated rhythm. This is supplemented by Jerre Haskew’s smooth and steady Martin D-28 high capoed conventional strumming, with Jim’s base notes “playing in the pocket” created by this innovative rhythm guitar style. Andy and Jerre have also developed several unique banjo-picking duets harmonizing with each other on such songs as “Grandfathers Clock”, “Home Sweet Home” and “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”.
Like many other successful and better known folk groups, the Trio includes a great deal of original material in their repertoire, written by Jerre and his wife, Barbara and close friend Hilary Lipsitz. Jerre has also written original verses and arrangements modifying many of the public domain tunes they sing, such as “South Australia,” “Old Blue”, “Ride The Chariot” and “John Henry”.
As the folk music world eagerly awaits their debut RIC Records LP due out July 15, having heard them live in Gatlinburg, Tennessee for the past week, and on an advance master tape, I can assure you it will be well-received and frankly a breath of fresh air.
July 8, 1964
Copyright The Folk Music Scene