Cary Fridley and Down South
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Cary Fridley and Down South


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"Down South Review - Sing Out!"

Nice traditional American folk mixed with a heavy dose of blues, bluegrass, old time and even a bit of contemporary country. There's a refreshing variety here, from "When the Levee Breaks," with just her guitar and high lonesome vocal, to the full band (guitar, bass, drums, pedal steel) on "Cheatin'," an original that would be right at home on country radio. -- JA - Sing Out! Magazine Winter 2008 Vol. 51 #4

"Down South Review - Dirty Linen"

"Down South" is a good name for the latest solo release from Cary Fridley. On it, the former Freight Hoppers singer and guitarist offers music in old time, blues, and straight-ahead country styles, but the most distinctive style is her own, one that sounds both timeless and old time. She has a voice from the Virginia mountains that sounds as though it could be from years ago, and yet it remains contemporary at the same time. It's a bit like Iris DeMent meets Kate Campbell meets Gillian Welch in an Appalachian holler. Tracks include "Goin' Down South," "North Country," and "Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies." (KD) - Dirty Linen Magazine April/May 2008

"Down South Review - Bluegrass Unlimited"

Cary Fridley understands one very, very important thing about singing emotionally intense music: it's almost always most effective to deliver lines of despair or rage in as gentle and calm a voice as possible. And her voice is a wonder - a strong, but crystalline construction that cuts through the mix without ever sounding strident; gentle and almost fragile without ever threatening to fall apart.

Fridley's repertoire is something of a wonder, as well. It incorporates oldtime breakdowns (featuring the 7 Mile Fork String Band), hairraising Delta blues (featuring the Lowdown Travelers Blues Band), AngloAmerican folk ballads, straightup country music, and neotraditional singer/songwriter fare, some written by her, but most of which comes from other sources. Nothing here comes close to being bluegrass, but it's hard to imagine that anyone who appreciates great singing, great songs, and a variety of rootsy American music will fail to fall under the spell that Cary Fridley weaves on this very fine album. - Bluegrass Unlimited, May 2008 Issue

"Gone Freightless"

In 1999, Cary Fridley left the Freight Hoppers to settle in Asheville, North Carolina. A year later, she released Neighbor Girl, showcasing the traditional Appalachian music she loves, on her own Juba label. While performing locally in various traditional contexts, she broadened her musical palette as she faced the working musician’s primary challenge: economic survival.
Down South, her new self-released effort, reflects those experiences. “It was seven years since the first album, and [to me] it was, ‘What have I been doing, and what would represent me right now?” she says. “What are my things I stand out the best on, what are my favorite songs, and if I could take the best of my musical life here in Asheville, what would it be?”
“Scotland Man” (with the 7 Mile Ford String Band, “Pretty Saro”, and the Carter Family’s “Lonesome Homesick Blues”, with Daniel Coolik on guitar, dominate the album, but Fridley turns a corner by offering edgy electric blues renditions of R.L. Burnside’s “Goin' Down South” and Blind Willie McTell’s “God Don’t Like It” with the Lowdown Travelers. A raw, austere-honky-tonk band frames Kitty Wells’ “Making Believe” and the Ola Belle Reed composition (and Freight Hoppers favorite) “You Led Me To The Wrong.” Fridley’s first original, the country ballad “Cheatin’”, was inspired by the story her brother – then stationed in Iraq – told her of a comrade who was engaged to one soldier and in love with another. “It’s a strange song, ‘cause it’s from the man’s point of view,” she says.
Given the note on Fridley’s MySpace page explaining the album’s diversity, does she anticipate flak from traditionalists? “That crossed my mind, but I decided not to care,” she laughs. “I decided one of the reasons behind the Freight Hoppers’ success is we were just trying to do the thing that we loved the best.
“In a lot of ways, I’m a purist when it comes to old-time music. So with the other music on there, I was trying to free myself up and just express in a more modern vein. It was honest both way.”
Fridley grew up in Covington, Virginia, ten miles from the West Virginia line. Her dad, a local pharmacist, never pursued his dreams of paying bluegrass banjo, but when he noticed the instrument fascinated his daughter, he helped her get lessons. When she was 12, he began dropping her off at a weekly bluegrass jam held by locals he knew well, all experienced amateurs who imparted the musical wisdom instruction books don’t teach. They also encouraged her to sing.
“I’m there by myself, and they never played music with women,” she laughs. “I would go every week and those old men taught me how to play.”
Trained in classical flute and armed with a Master’s in music education, Fridley taught high school choir for a year in Mocksville, North Carolina, in 1994. “I started playing with the Freight Hoppers the summer after my first year teaching, and I thought, this is a lot more fun than teaching,” she reflects. “I’m just going to move to Bryson City and be poor and play the guitar all the time.”
The subsequent move to Asheville expanded her horizons. “I kind of started over again,” she says. “That’s when I started doing the blues and I really got into Cajun music. I just wanted to explore and relax and play.”
Economic realities soon intervened. “It’s hard to pay the bills that way,” she acknowledges. “I taught privately and, playing bass, I could play all different kinds of gigs, more than if I was just an old-time guitar player.”
Her role as bassist and singer with One Leg Up, exponents of Django Reinhart-inspired acoustic Gypsy jazz, “activates a different part of my brain,” she says, adding, “it took me to school, but it was worth it.” Solo gigs, private teaching and a couple years of teaching music at a local experimental charter school (she left late last year) allowed her to buy a house and save some money.
Does the confusion between authentic traditional music and tradition-flavored Americana singer-songwriter fare inspired by O Brother, Where Art Thou? Trouble her? “I was worried you were going to ask me that question, because I don’t want to discs anything anybody else is doing, but yes,” she says.
“That bothers me because I feel like it…might water things down. I don’t like that stuff and it’s harder for me to listen to that. I definitely don’t want to do that. I just have to look at it as two completely different things. But what I don’t like it when they call it old-time music.”
Bent on enhancing but not abandoning her beloved Appalachian sound, Fridley’s new backing band will embrace the eclecticism of Down South. “It’s kind of leaning like a western swing-type setup,” she explains. “I really want to write more songs. I have no idea what the next project will be.” RICH KIENZLE

- No Depression (Nov/Dec 2007)

"Back in the spotlight, Cary Fridley strikes out on her own, again"

It’s not like Cary Fridley has been keeping a low profile for the past several years. From her time as the rhythm guitarist for The Freight Hoppers, a now-defunct outfit that made waves in the old-time music scene in the late 1990s, to her more recent work with groups like The Lowdown Travelers and One Leg Up, Fridley has made a habit of collaborating with some of the area’s best musical talent.

Back on the scene: With Down South, ex-Freight Hopper Cary Fridley is poised to release her first solo album in seven years. photo by Sandlin Gaither
But it’s as a solo performer that Fridley’s work truly shines. In 2001, she released her solo debut, Neighbor Girl, which earned glowing reviews from the likes of No Depression and Bluegrass Unlimited. Since Neighbor Girl, however, Fridley seems to have kept herself out of the center of the spotlight.

Until now, that is. Later this week, Fridley will debut Down South, her first solo release in seven years. The album is a collection of classic blues, country and old-time tunes reworked in the singer’s own eclectic style, featuring a wide range of local performers from Fridley’s various side projects and collaborations.

“I’m into Ashville and the musicians here and the scene here,” says Fridley. “I wanted to include them and represent myself and Asheville. And I wanted the whole thing to be a natural, organic experience with friends, coming from a good, peaceful, community-type place. Because I think that’s what Asheville has to offer.”

And represent she does. Stylistically speaking, Down South is nearly as diverse as the local music scene that Fridley has helped cultivate. Opening with a spattering of traditional old-time string arrangements, including the Carter Family’s “Lonesome Homesick Blues,” Fridley’s sharp, cutting vocals drive home the sincerity and heart of these seldom-recorded ballads.

In turn, these tunes seamlessly transition into Fridley’s first original country release, “Cheatin,” a twangy tale of infidelity inspired by a love affair her brother related one Christmas Eve from a military base in Baghdad.

“[My brother] was telling me this story about a friend he was worried about,” Fridley recalls. “His friend was in love with this other soldier, which was against the rules anyway, but she was also engaged to another soldier who was stationed in Germany. These two had been having this romance within their 10-hour workdays in this little space. And I was talking to him on the phone on Christmas Eve, and I said, ‘What’s going on with them?’ And he said, ‘Well, her fiance is flying in tonight, and she’s gotta decide. Somebody’s heart’s going to get broken tonight.’”

From there, Down South veers from tradition, delving into reverb-soaked, electric-harp blues, modern-country instrumentation and a sampling of more traditional, Grand Ole Opry-inspired arrangements, all the while employing rich harmonies, electric instruments and drums. What’s more, it does this without sacrificing the authenticity of the songs.

For Fridley, a self-described music “purist,” capturing the musical diversity and progressive attitude that make the Asheville sound unique was vital.

“In old-time music, before recordings, music had a sense of place,” she explains, her voice hinting at nostalgia. “You could hear a fiddler from Kentucky and he sounds like he’s from Kentucky. And I feel like we’re losing that. I miss that about today. I wanted this record to have a sense of place, and kind of return to that sense of place.”

And when it comes to fusing those elements, Fridley is a natural. A multi-instrumentalist who grew up taking professional piano lessons while playing banjo with the local pickers, she’s long been accustomed to blurring genres.

“I grew up around bluegrass mostly,” Fridley reveals. “I always had this dual thing happening where classical music was the real music—I was taking lessons when I was little—and bluegrass was what the country people played, and it was fun. But I’m from Covington, Va., and it’s all mixed in up there. Nobody called one thing bluegrass and the other thing something else. They played both, because there were old people playing and young people playing all together.”

While blurring those boundaries comes easily for Fridley, Down South still had its share of challenges. Fridley says that arranging such a diverse collection of songs and arrangements proved cumbersome.

“Everybody was saying, ‘There’s too many different styles. It’s not going to work. It’s not going to flow,’” she says. “And I was like, ‘I don’t care, I’m going to do it anyway. I’ll sort it out later. I want this song and this song and this song.’ And I ended up with too many songs, so if something was wrong with any of them, I was like, ‘That one’s out!’”

With time and patience, however, Fridley settled on 16 songs, creating a cohesive union of old and new. And as for that all-important flow?

“There’s this groove that I really like, that I would hear in different songs,” she says. “I think that kind of unifies it, in my mind. I don’t know if you can hear it.”

[Dane Smith is a freelance writer based in Asheville.] - Mountain Xpress 09/12/2007


Cary Fridley, Down South CD c. 2007 Juba Records
Cary Fridley, Neighbor Girl CD c. 2000 Juba Records



Cary Fridley and Down South is an electric country honky tonk band from Asheville, NC that delivers a rocking two-step dance beat and classic high lonesome harmony vocals. Musicians include veterans of old-time and bluegrass bands like The Freight Hoppers and The Biscuit Burners, as well as accomplished regional jazz and jam-based soloists, who bring with them a fondness for old styles. The original and traditional songs Cary Fridley sings with Down South are rooted in tradition, drawing from classic country hits as well as from the songs she sang with the Freight Hoppers in the 1990's. Inspired by country blues and by Louisiana traditional country music, Down South uses modern electric instruments while still keeping the traditional elements and the soul of the music intact. Down South connects with the sounds of earlier honky-tonk bands like Bob Wills, Hank Thompson, and Patsy Cline, reflecting modern times through country dancing, traditional vocals and stunning solos. The Saturday night dance band beat of Down South channels the energy of generations past, bringing country music to the mainstream in a fresh, new way. The experience of a Down South show carries with it a sense of the South and of the mountains, evoking the romantic mountain spirit of nature, love, tradition, and music making.