Rooted In The Mountains

Dan Berggren & Dan Duggan

Sleeping Giant Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


It's like the ad campaign says: fun is good.

Dan Berggren and Dan Duggan have been making music together for twenty years, a pair of Adirondack folkies and bards who play both traditional mountain music and their own compositions. They've donated their time to multiple historical and art charities in upstate New York, they've played coffeehouses and concert halls, and it seems like they're having fun doing it. On their latest recording, Rooted In The Mountains, Berggren and Duggan aren't trying to be commercial. There are no musical tricks or compromises; this is a couple of guys with a bunch of stringed instruments recording music in their kitchen with family and friends. And damn, it's fun. Fun, as we said earlier, is good.

There are a lot of pleasant surprises on Rooted. The production and recording quality is excellent, unusual in a small-market folk/traditional recording. The musicianship is peerless; Duggan plays hammered dulcimer like rain on the roof in fall, notes cascading almost too fast for the ears to follow. (I admit it, I'm a sucker for hammered dulcimer, and Duggan delivers.) Duggan also plays an excellent banjo, bringing out the instrument's inherent emotional feel without sounding too much like a cliché.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Berggren has an expressive, conversational voice, rich and textured, and unlike many artists you can understand what the hell he's saying. This is important on traditional songs like "Bert LaFountain's Packard", songs that truly tell a story. (This one happens to be about rumrunning across the Canadian border during Prohibition.)

Rooted In The Mountains is about half original compositions and half traditional ballads that Berggren and Duggan have rescued or that they learned from older musicians. "Ballad Of Big Moose Lake", for example, Berggren learned from his mother, who learned it in turn from an older cousin when she was ten; it documents a famous murder and trial from 1906. Berggren takes his own turn at this type of story song, recording "Garrow", about a murderer who escaped from jail in 1978. "Mister Rogers" is a tribute to Berggren's daughter's favorite TV star, written in 1984. The truly wonderful "Quiet Night In August" is a mysterious story about one night in Berggren's life where he may or may not have had a rather intense supernatural and spiritual experience, with flute provided by that same daughter, now much older. "According To The Plan" is a bittersweet and amused reflection on life, written interestingly enough two years before Dan Fogleberg's "Part Of The Plan". (When someone gets smart and gives me a radio station to play with, I'll be sure to include this particular double shot.)

The best thing on the CD by far, however, is the wickedly funny "When Spring Comes", a paean to the wet and mucky moments between February and May when Old Man Winter and Mistress Spring are mudwrestling for control of your back yard. There's a thousand miles between Indiana and upstate New York, but it astonishes how many of the jokes translate. "You're out on the lawn, no coat at all // When spring comes, spring comes // Rakin' up stuff that you missed last fall // When the spring, it does come in…" I also appreciated the line about running naked through the woods on the Equinox, but I'm incorrigible.

The only complaint I have is "PieDotCom", which I thought strained pretty hard for the rather small jokes inherent in it, but it's a minor quibble.

Fun is good. Rooted In The Mountains is good. Dan Berggren and Dan Duggan are good. 'Nough said. Hie thyself online and buy this baby.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sleeping Giant Records, and is used for informational purposes only.