Named after the Virginian town in which it was recorded, Ironto Special marks The Black Twig Pickers first release for their new label Thrill Jockey. Following on from last years album with Jack Rose (Jack Rose and The Black Twig Pickers), the album sees the band continue in their fine vein of form. The 15 tracks here were all recorded in single takes with no overdubs and capture a band who are masters at their chosen discipline. Although there are two original songs on the record, the majority of the album is made up from songs that have been learnt by the band through study with local old-time musicians and various field recordings from the region. The result is an album that both celebrates old time Appalachian traditions and adds to them-passing the traditions and songs on to the next generation. It’s a joyful and uplifting sound. Built up around layers of claw-hammer banjo, washboard, guitar and scratching fiddle there are plenty of additional harmonica, Jaws harp, bones and hollers thrown in for good measure. There’s even a guest appearance from frequent touring partner Charlie Parr who contributes 12 String Baritone Resonator ( a one of a kind instrument) to album closer ‘Rocking in a Weary Land’, a song built upon a marching drum and looping and insistent drones.
It is unlikely that Ironto Special‘s old-time sound will appeal to all TLOBF readers. But then that isn’t really the point: if you allow yourself a minute to listen to the whoops and hollers of ‘Bonaparte’s March into Russia’,'Old Jack Gillie’, or the scratching fiddle of ‘Love My Honey I Do’ you begin to realise that Ironto Special is less of an album and more a joyful celebration of a living, breathing musical form. While there may be a place for the Frank Fairfields and C.W Stonekings of this world, who seem to re-enact the music they produce and play some kind of character, with the The Black Twig Pickers the focus lies solely on sonic revelry rather than any kind of nostalgia or reverence for days gone by. Be it the frenzied scraping of the fiddle, the whirling banjo lines or the insistent chug of the guitar, there is an entrancing fervor to the playing on Ironto Special that makes it a record that is easy to lose yourself in.