PRESS CLIPPINGS FROM SHOWS/ARTICLES
Australia's RYTHYMS Magizine Revue of "Home on the Mountain"
Whitetop Mountaineers at Woodford
"This is my kind of music. Down to earth, straight ahead, uncluttered, heartfelt." Wayne Erbsen
Native Ground Books & Music
"Martha and Jackson play the kinds of songs I like, the way I like to hear them played. Whether they are performing a honky-tonk duet, an old time ballad or traditional fiddle tune, they always attend to their craft with obvious passion, exuberance, and soul. Martha, quite simply, pours her heart out into every note, and connects with audiences in a manner quite rare among todayʼs performers. Jackson provides the perfect vocal complement, and is also fast becoming one of my most favorite mandolin players. Together they create a sound that is fresh yet familiar, and their live performers are, above all else, one heck of a good time."
Jon Lohman, Virginia State Folklorist
"I had the pleasure of attending several performances of The Whitetop Mountaineers at the Woodford Folk Festival last week. From the first note of their show, I was left in no doubt that Martha Spencer and Jackson Cunningham are the real McCoy when it comes to Old Timey music. I imagined their high lonesome mountain voices and tasteful guitar, claw-hammer banjo, fiddle and mandolin accompaniment could have come straight out of Appalachia 80 or 90 years ago. It was obvious that this music has been in their blood for many generations, and this couple have been immersed in it since their conception.
Each performance included a good mix of secular and gospel songs, plus banjo, fiddle and mandolin instrumentals, all executed with ease and simple charm. Despite a heavy workload with at least two performances every day of the six day festival, plus the high temperatures and humidity, Martha treated the audiences to her energetic and flamboyant clogging. It seemed her legs, arms and hair each had a mind of their own – she was sheer joy in motion.
If you like Old Timey music and get a chance to see The Whitetop Mountaineers as they tour NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, I would recommend it highly. It’s not often we get to see the real McCoy here in Australia. You won’t be disappointed"
Stephen Loss, australianbluegrass.com
The Whitetop Mountaineers are one of my favorite groups. I've known them for a quite a few years, and have been privileged to watch them develop as artists. They come from a background as rich as the red Appalachian clay, and whether you're a fan of bluegrass music or not, they offer an intimate look at music that represents a culture and region that is rarely exposed to people unfamiliar with its heritage. Everyone who attended their performance left with eyes opened wider and a two-step just itching to break free. Many of my regular attendees have told me that it was their favorite of the entire House Show Series.
-- M. Branin, House Concert host
Home on the Mountain CD 11/18/08
It warms my heart to meet and get to know certain top quality young musicians who seem to be particular about their music. Jackson Cunningham and Martha Spencer are such a couple. Unlike many in the current generation of young musicians in their 20's, they do not focus on the current trends in what's generally known as old-time and bluegrass music. As listeners and players, they are not drawn to the 'jazzy' hot licks and the 'soul singer' vocals of many of their peers. That kind of individualism gets recognized as true talent far too often in the realm of bluegrass, country, and gospel music in my opinion. Nor are they drawn to the national old-time music scene that seems to be often lacking an understanding of the fundamentals of mountain dance music. In what this collection on this CD represents, however, the music made by Jackson and Martha is much deeper. These performances are tasteful and solid, yet, not flashy or fancy. This propensity for coming up with an interesting sound in their many types of songs and tunes is not just by chance.
They have been fortunate to have been influenced by family members who were focused on their own preferences for music. Jackson, born and raised in Oregon, with a varied musical background was urged by his musical father, Jack, to come east to the Blue Ridge region to live in the midst of the birthplace of the music he himself loved. Jackson has become an avid collector of classic bluegrass and gospel recordings. Consequently, he has assimilated a purity in his vocals and mandolin work inspired by the classic bluegrass sound he was drawn to. Martha, born into a musical family was immersed from day one into a world of singing, banjo playing and fiddling from the Whitetop area of Southwest Virginia. Inspired by both her parents, Thorton and Emily Spencer , she has mastered their vocal and instrumental techniques and surely makes them proud. Martha's uncle, the late old-time fiddler Albert Hash, would be proud as well.
Together, Jackson and Martha choose to do songs from sources that reflect the strong musical traditions of their home region including bluegrass, country, old-time, and gospel. As a true fan and performer of similar music, the choice of songs and tunes for this CD seems to me to be a fine tribute to some of the fine songwriters and performers who have had an impact on the region's reputation for great music. Jackson and Martha's solid renditions and enthusiastic performances of these and other great songs in their repetoire are a welcome addition to the fine music of Southwest Virginia.
The Whitetop Mountaineers – Home on the Mountain (CD)
by Frank Weston, London UK
Whitetop Mountain was for a brief period in the 1930’s the venue for a large folk festival that brought together numerous ballad singers, fiddlers, banjo and guitar pickers from the surrounding area, it even attracted the presence of the first lady of the time Eleanor Roosevelt. The festivals for various reasons did not last for too many years but what has lasted is the music of the area which long pre-dated the festivals. The music of people such as fiddle player Corbitt Stamper called by many the Grandfather of Whitetop Fiddle and banjo player Jont Blevins for example.
Almost certainly the most well known among the fiddlers of Whitetop was master craftsman, fiddle player and maker Albert Hash. Albert as a young boy was inspired to take up the fiddle after hearing Corbitt Stamper playing during a heavy rainstorm when it was not possible to work in the fields. Albert went on to form the Whitetop Mountain Band who performed regularly on local radio and for regional social events and dances. In the later years of Albert’s life the band included his young brother-in-law Thornton Spencer who had been taught fiddle by Albert, and Thornton’s wife Emily on vocals, banjo and guitar. Emily cites as her main banjo influence her teacher the aforementioned Jont Blevins. The band has worked steadily for years at dances all around the Virginia, North Carolina and East Tennessee region and they were a big success at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville. Two members of the current line up along with Thornton and Emily are their daughter Martha Spencer and Jackson Cunningham who as a duo work under the name The Whitetop Mountaineers, the peformers on this disc.
Martha is fine singer and a multi-instrumentalist switching effortlessly between fiddle, banjo and guitar. Jackson has been playing guitar from the age of nine and the mandolin since his late teens, all of his family are musical. Although born in Oregon he moved to Virginia because his father lived there and because of the pull of the music and soon fit right in with the band. His influences on mandolin include Bill Monroe and the various brother duets such as The Lilly Brothers and The Blue Sky Boys. His banjo playing has been learned mostly from Martha and her mother Emily but it has also been influenced by the playing of Jont Blevins , Lawrence Russell and other players from the region.
Although I had seen the Whitetop Mountain Band on a number of occasions including on stage at the Worlds Fair and at the dances which they played each Friday night at Sparta, North Carolina it wasn’t until Mount Airy in June of 2006 where I heard Martha and Jackson as a duo. I was impressed by them then and again when they visited Europe a couple of months back. As a duo Martha and Jackson have played the San Francisco Bluegrass and Old Time Festival, toured in Australia and the United Kingdom and are about to embark on a return trip to Australia very soon.
This album gives us all an opportunity to hear how well they work together swapping the lead vocals and swapping instruments each at various times playing back-up guitar, and each playing a clean clear uncluttered banjo which is so obviously influenced by the playing of Emily Spencer. Two good examples of this are heard on the fiddle & banjo instrumental ‘Casey Jones’ and the banjo and guitar instrumental ‘Stillhouse’. Likewise Martha’s fiddle playing style comes straight from Thornton. Jackson’s mandolin playing which impressed several of my mandolin playing friends in the UK during his recent visit fits perfectly. There are four tracks where his work on that instrument brings out that special feel of the old time brother acts. Perhaps not surprisingly Bill Monroe’s ‘The Old Crossroads’ is a good example. Nine of the tracks are traditional numbers learnt from regional players, others were written by such local people as Ann Winebarger and E C Ball plus one by Martha ‘Home is Where the Fiddle Rings’ which she sings solo with simple banjo accompaniment. This song sits well within the tradition of celebrating the joys of a home in the mountains. Their treatment of a favourite of mine ‘Pretty Little Miss’ which I have always associated with Cousin Emmy is made more interesting by the use of a key change for the alternate question and answer verses
This album while providing variety and not being a slavish copy of all that has gone before presents music very much within the musical traditions of Whitetop Mountain.
COMMENTS BY FANS
Living in the northern Virginia suburbs does not automatically connect a person to the older music traditions of that state. Last night a few folks at a Reston house concert found that connection with the music of the Whitetop Mountaineers, and the effect was as refreshing as the first apples of autumn. A video of the Whitetop Mountaineers live in Australia The Whitetop Mountaineers are Martha Spencer and Jackson Cunningham, a young couple from southwest Virginia. From the start of the show, the duo sang strong, clear vocals with uplifting harmonies on "Just Got To Heaven And I Can't Sit Down," with Martha playing clawhammer banjo and Jackson on flatpick guitar. They played casually through a few more songs and tunes this way, trading lead vocals and improvising the set list. Martha told the audience how she had learned to play, sing, and dance from her family and neighbors as part of her rural upbringing. Jackson talked about building his own instruments with advice from many other builders in that area. Then they started swapping instruments, with Martha on guitar and Jackson ripping through some Monroe-style mandolin on an instrument that he had built. When I hear someone play real Monroe style, it just keeps in my head for a long time. Loud, strong, melodic tremolo, and lightning-clean on the dance tunes. Next Martha got up to do some flatfoot dancing while Jackson played the banjo. She was kicking high and stomping hard and had the audience loving it all. All energy and fun. The instruments kept passing around, with Martha on fiddle and Jackson touching everything else at some point. To old-time music lovers, the hour-long set was mostly familiar stuff: "The Cuckoo," "Let Me Fall," etc. The timing was absolutely always there, the vocal harmonies free and light, and the instrumentation spot on the melody booking straight down the road without a swerve. This duo is a subgroup of the full family band known as the Whitetop Mountain band. They are playing as part of Virginia's Crooked Road music programming, so folks in Virginia will get many more chances to hear them if they keep an eye out. For me, I love hearing people who live in one of the musical traditions that I dabble in myself. Martha and Jackson play southwest Virginia music that goes back generations and even centuries. I usually describe my suburban version of fiddle music as "old time," or "music from Appalachia and New England." I'm not apologizing for my postmodern surveying of old-time and contra styles, just pointing out the contrast between folks deep in a tradition and a city-billy who respectfully borrows a touch of that. - Scott Malyszka, 2009
I had the pleasure of seeing Martha and Jackson perform at the Illawarra Folk Festival and to chat with them afterward. They and their music made a lot of Aussie friends.
February 7, 2008
Hey, Martha & Jackson! I'd never heard of you until last Friday night when you were at McGrath's Pub in Alameda as part of the San Francisco Bluegrass & Old-Time Festival, but I was thoroughly impressed and REALLY enjoyed your music. I was the doorman that night as an SFBOT volunteer. Everyone I spoke with was impressed by you two. I look forward to your next visit to the Bay Area.
Bruce Grant (San Francisco Peninsula)
G'day Folks, I saw/heard Martha and Jackson in Tamworth (Australia) last week and loved the music! Come back!
January 28, 2008
Howdy! i just saw your band in butte mt. you folks were one of the high spots of the evening. a real good time. i especially liked martha's flat footin. she's cute and can really get it done. (no offense jackson)haha. im a blue grass musician and im planning a trip back east within the next year. id like to come see you all again and maybe pick a tune. i can scratch out an old time tune or four on the fiddle and would love to learn from you folks. thanks. i enjoyed it. jeff trask
November 4, 2007
Saw Martha and Jackson at the Open House Festival in Belfast Northern Ireland supporting Mozaik and really loved your music. Will you be over in these parts again?
September 29, 2007
Ya'll were so good out in Williamsburg this weekend. Your playing was just so heartfelt and fun to listen to. I think we got fortunate when it started lightening and they turned the electricity off. I really enjoyed hearing your impromptu session without amplification. I must say that was a truly memorable performace. Martha Spencer you are a ray of sunshine. I've been listening to the album you and Jackson Cunningham recorded, "Home is Where My Mamma Sings." I'd have to nominate it for Bluegrass album of the year. Ya'll are definetly something special. June 4, 2007
Yet another fantastic show tonight! You rocked the house! I just finished listening to Home On the Mountain, and it is a perfect five star mountain music masterpiece. As great as your first album was, this one is a quantum leap forward both in performance, vocals and production values. Marth's banjo, guitar and fiddle playing are on a par with her legendary mother and father, Jackson's mandolin playing is supple and divine, and each of your remarkable vocal talents are outstanding. My favorites in a flawless batch of songs is Home On the Mountain, which nearly moved me to tears, I Can't Sit Down, which is a completely charming song with complex rhythms played brilliantly, the stunning instrumental Casey Jones, the lovely and deeply spiritaul I See God in Everything and the jumping banjo workout Banjo Pickin' Girl, which even beats Emily's brilliant version! You both have truly outdone yourselves, and I am so thrilled that you are going out on the road with such a flawless, brilliant album! I wish you nothing but the best of luck and we will be praying for you both always.
Make us proud! Peace, love and happy holidays, Tim