by Adam McKinney for OLY ARTS
When we talk about old-time music, there’s an implicit promise in that description. We’re discussing music that carries forward traditions that were baked into it from its inception. Like any other art form, innovations, excursions, and experiments have transpired over the years, but old-time music, by design, is built on a steadfast foundation that has proven unshakable. Fans of the classic form have fastidiously endeavored to keep the original sound and spirit of this genre alive and in practice. If you look for the platonic ideal of this style, you needn’t look any further than Spencer & Rains.
The duo of Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains display a clear desire to uphold the traditional sounds of old-time music, but they reserve an ability to imbue their songs with the sort of vitality that must have hit the ears of those hearing this type of music way back when. Part of that is due to their thrillingly dynamic musicianship; on “Apple Blossoms,” the opening track of their 2016 LP “The Spotted Pony .” we’re treated to their dual fiddle harmonics, wordlessly painting a picture of a joyous summer’s day. In fact, Spencer & Rains prefer to allow us to get acquainted with their ability to tell stories purely instrumentally. When “Ida Red” comes around, four songs in, we finally hear Spencer & Rains’ lovely vocal harmonics.
More often than not, Spencer & Rains are interested in making music that will make you dance. There’s a vibe of a party that accompanies many of their songs, very much in line with old-time music’s history of soundtracking square dances and exuberant celebrations. Ideally, you’d not taking in the music of Spencer & Rains from any position other than standing and jigging. When you’re given a moment of respite, it’s on songs like “Dew Drop Waltz,” which doesn’t encourage a lack of dancing so much as a more intimate, gentle kind of dance.
In keeping with their traditionalist style, they have their share of songs that have to do with old battles, such as “Mace Bell’s Civil War March” and “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” as well as odes to a life lived in simpler times, like “Mississippi Snagboat” and “Louisiana Traveler.” While the topics may be old, and the instrumentation may be even older, Spencer & Rains are preternaturally adept at making their music feel thrillingly vital.
Spencer & Rains at Oly Old Time Festival
South Bay Grange,
3918 Sleater Kinney Rd NE, Olympia
7:00 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17
$20, Free for kids 12 and under