Mike Gangloff - "Queen of the Earth, Child of the Skies" (Poplar Hollow)
Mike Gangloff has been picking, stroking, and sawing at various instruments with Pelt, the Black Twig Pickers, Spiral Joy Band, and Keyhole since the mid-90s. He hasn’t spent much time putting himself out from as a solo performer, probably because he didn’t have to; between his various ensembles, he’s been able to play anything he wanted, from ceremonial gong music to entropic rock to rustic airs learned from his elders and neighbors in Southwestern Virginia. Also, as a family man, until recently he’s confined his touring to short jaunts with one of his in-demand ensembles.
But things change, and recently Gangloff toured Ireland and the UK under his own name. Practicality is likely one of the reasons that this record exists — a musician needs merch to sell in order to buy that next tank of gas! But Poplar Hollow remains a chance to savor Gangloff’s banjo and fiddle playing without competition from the accompanists that generally vie with him for places in front of the microphones. Save for a droning shruti box on a couple tunes, Gangloff is alone here. Mostly he fiddles or plucks a banjo; on two tunes, he sings in the same unvarnished drawl he pitches into the mix with the Twigs.
While the aura of sonic shamanism that Pelt has indulged ever since Ayahuasca is evident in the big, broad ring he obtains from open tuned strings, what he actually plays are lyric melodies he either learned from Appalachian bow-pullers or wrote in emulation of them. Some of them are pretty familiar; Melvin Wine’s “New Orleans” is mighty close kin to “Shady Grove,” and Gangloff’s notes traces opener “Queen of the Earth, Child of the Skies” to sources in three different states. Gangloff’s violin tone is big enough to knock the hunters out of their blinds as it wings from valley side to valley side, and his taste is ornamentation is as splintery and true as his singing. On the three tracks where he switches to banjo, Gangloff once more favors pulse, resonance, and presence over flash. This is music to feel and use, by turns as practical as your grandfather’s favorite pocketknife, as moving as a sad letter from a loved one, and as fun as a night out with good friends.