This band take their name from a popular Tennessee variety of apple first introduced as a seedling in 1830. Black Twig apples have a taste that is both sweet and tart and, if stored correctly, get better the longer you keep them.
Old time Appalachian folk music is also something that improves with age. Far from being the kind of aural history housed in museum vaults, it is a vibrant and living music passed from one generation to another which, if preserved well, never loses its power.
Black Twig Pickers are well aware that there is no need for any modern studio trickery to communicate the power of these (mostly) traditional songs. All the tracks here, recorded in Ironto, Virginia, are single takes with no overdubs. The all acoustic instrumentation by the trio of Nathan Bowles, Isak Howell and Mike Gangloff includes fiddles, clawhammer banjo, washboard, bones, fiddlesticks, mouth harp + jaw harp.
A marching drum on the closing track (Rockin' In A Weary Land) is the only percussion on the record. This song is also the one with faint traces of the droning fiddle that invites comparison with the more experimental pieces that Gangloff (and sometimes Howell) play as part of other group projects Pelt and Spiral Joy Band.
This is Black Twig Pickers first album for Thrill Jockey; their previous four releases are on the VHF label where you will also find the fine album they made with the late great Jack Rose in 2009.
Of the fifteen tracks, only four feature vocals, so long as you discount the yelps on the hoedown numbers. It is hard to pick out individual tracks as they are all special in their own right. My personal favourite, though, is Pickin' Out The Devil's Eyes which in just two minutes encapsulates the energy rush and sheer vibrancy of their playing. The title also seems apt in that it suggests a defiance of mortality whilst never losing sight of the fact that in the midst of life we are in death.
To label Black Twig Pickers as old timey is not wrong but risks missing how this is music bridges an imaginary divide separating old and new weird America. This is music that originates from a specific time and place but it is not confined to temporal or geographical boundaries. It serves as a reminder that concepts of traditional versus contemporary ultimately become arbitrary and meaningless distinctions.
Great music like this is truly timeless.
Black Twig Pickers artist page at Thrill Jockey