Sunny CD keeps winter at bay

By MARGOT McMILLEN Special to the Tribune

Story ran on Sunday, February 04 2001

This winter, two of Boonville’s devoted musicians have released "Living on the River," a collection of music that salutes generations of musicians who have worked and played music together for decades and are passing their music on.

Recorded by Stephen Gardner at the Music House in Columbia, "Living on the River" is the latest venture by Cathy Barton and Dave Para. The two have tirelessly researched the folklore and history of our region. Among their projects are two important collections of Civil War tunes and a beguiling album of Christmas music.

Barton grew up in Columbia; Para came to the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism and never left. Together, they learned the music of Taylor McBaine, Pete McMahan and other Boone Countians with tunes and skills going back to the turn of the last century and earlier. Young musicians, most notably Leela and Ellie Grace, have learned from them in turn.

A hasty categorization of Barton-Para music might wedge it into the acoustic folk genre, but, like the river, Mid-Missouri music brings together influences from all over the world. Para and Barton are always researching as they travel to perform. This collection includes tributes to all the mighty rivers of America and reaches into history. Some of the oldest sounds seem refreshingly new.

"Shawneetown," a traditional song commemorating a 1700s river port, comes to life in this version with Barton on mouthbow, Para playing bones, Forrest Rose on bass and Rich Oberto on drums. That’s right, no fiddle, banjo or guitar. Para and Barton pronounce words as if they are meant to be understood: "Now the current’s got her, boys, we’ll take up some slack. We’ll float her down to Shawneetown and bushwhack her back." Para’s excellent notes cover the history of each piece and give some context, explaining, for example, that bushwhacking meant to "propel a boat upstream by pulling on overhead branches."

A medley, "This is My River/Sam Polo," opens with a Tom Paxton song harvested by Lee Ruth from a 1960s television public service announcement then adds an 1850s tune from the U.S. Navy Band. Got that? Now add a calypso beat, and, well, it swings. I kept waiting for Ruth to chime in. Note for future projects - more Ruth.

This album runs deep with other local treasures: Three of the 19 cuts are songs written by Boonville’s Bob Dyer, who combines storytelling with deep knowledge of Missouri history. A plaintive John Hartford song, "Old-Time Riverman," will make you wish for at least one Hartford piece on every CD issued by anyone from now on. Hartford lives in Nashville, Tenn., now, but Callaway County still claims him.

Several pieces in the collection come from traditional American repertory. "Natchez Under the Hill," with banjo by Barton, Para on guitar and bones and Paul Grace on fiddle, will be familiar to fiddle fans as a cousin of "Turkey in the Straw." Grace and his wife, Win, share their skills on other memorable cuts, including a hearty double-time instrumental march, "The Steamboat."

Those who have followed the Barton-Para team expect Barton’s solid vocals and masterful banjo and hammered dulcimer, with hearty backup guitar and vocal harmony from Para. Two of the nice surprises on this collection are Para’s especially robust lead singing and the addition of old-time piano to Barton’s bag of musical gifts.

Besides those already mentioned, many top local musicians perform on this CD. The Grace sisters contribute instrumentals and vocals and add percussive feet and hambone to "Talk About Your Greenbacks," a traditional song first collected by Sandy Paton at Folk-Legacy Records. Howard Marshall on fiddle, Ruth on vocal, Knox McCrory on harmonica and Sam Griffin clapping his hands all add to the sunny mix.