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"Songs from the Mountain" brings to life the old-timey sounds from "Cold Mountain."

Mountain Music


The old-timey mountain style of acoustic music is so deeply rooted in American musical history that it's hard to know exactly how it originally sounded. But multi-instrumentalist Tim O'Brien is hoping that someday that will change. If the magic of technology stays on track, who knows what we'll learn about the everlasting beauty of the music that lingers in the heart and soul of Appalachia?

"There's really no way to tell what this music sounded like," O'Brien admits. "[But] it's printed on the leaves. It's out there somewhere."

O'Brien and cohorts Dirk Powell and John Herrmann will bring their own interpretation of this sound to the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen on Friday, April 7, with "Songs From the Mountain." It's with a deep respect for the authentic sound and feel of tradition and culture that the three released "Songs From the Mountain" as the musical companion to Charles Frazier's best-selling novel "Cold Mountain" a year ago. Drawing heavily from the book's accurate references to early 19th-century mountain music, the trio set out on "Song" to take listeners through the same journey of hardship and hope that Frazier detailed in his book. O'Brien says he and friends Powell and Herrmann always shared a love for the old- timey, British Isles-based, American-bred music. When Powell approached him in February 1998 about recording tunes referenced in "Cold Mountain" as an aural accompaniment to the book, O'Brien quickly agreed.

They hooked up with Herrmann, picked a group of 19th-century tunes, and went into the studio to put music to the dream. O'Brien handled most vocals, production, guitar, mandolin and fiddle, while Powell primarily played fiddle and piano. Herrmann played banjo and mandolin.

The project met with much critical acclaim for the beauty of its simplicity and carefully considered pace. But O'Brien readily admits that the old-timey acoustic music found on "Songs" isn't the most popular in mainstream America. Because of this, O'Brien says he and the others wanted to make a recording that both brought life to the music for those unfamiliar with its sound, and to the "Cold Mountain" text for those more in tune with the music.

"We wanted the people who read to listen to the music and vice-versa," O'Brien says with a laugh. "That doesn't happen very often."

If the original texture and tone of the music can't be recreated exactly, so be it. It's the spirit of the joy, the heartbreak, and the humanity forever woven together that finally tells the tale in story and song. It's this magic that O'Brien, Powell and Herrmann tap into by playing simple tunes of an earlier time.

"That's what this music is all about," O'Brien says. "Checking up on the

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