Randy Walker special for the Roanoke Times
Jack Hinshelwood calls his latest CD project ’50 Years In The Making’, but his roots go back even further.
“I had a fascination with the guitar as a young child,” he said in an interview from his home in Abingdon. “There was a guitar I found in the attic. It had four strings on it, I think. At 4, 5 years old, I was captivated by that.
It was the start of a lifelong passion for acoustic music, captured in a new two-CD set that will be released in concerts April 4 at Emory & Henry College and April 5 at Virginia Tech. Talented guests on the CDs include blues harmonica master Phil Wiggins, Bluegrass Music Hall of Famer Doyle Lawson and Dobro ace Rob Ickes. (A Dobro is a brand of acoustic guitar with a built-in metal resonator.)
The 22 songs cover the spectrum of acoustic styles from bluegrass and blues to old time, folk and Celtic. “These are songs that I love, many of them for many years. At 65…I want to record these songs while I’m still able to pick up a guitar and make some noise.
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Hinshelwood was around 13 when he first conducted “The Cremation of Sam Magee”, a poem by Robert Service, recited by a scout leader around a campfire. “It had such an impact on me, I’ve wanted to do it for so many years, and I finally put it to music. It’s possibly the oldest thing in the collection in terms of things put together in my directory.
Coincidentally, the most recent, “Something Told The Wild Geese”, is also an old poem set to music by Hinshelwood. He chose an alternate guitar/vocal setting to showcase the austere beauty of Rachel Field’s lyrics.
The rest of the tracks offer plenty of selection and hot play.
“Frankie & Johnny”, a traditional tale of love gone wrong, features the playful piano of Brennen Ernst and the sinuous harmonica of Piedmontese bluesman Phil Wiggins.
Ronan Browne plays uilleann flute (similar to bagpipes) and pennywhistle on “The Unquiet Grave”, which also features Dori Freeman singing the role of the narrator’s dead love.
Dom Flemons, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, plays the bones on “New Old Molly Hare.” Doug Jernigan adds steely pedal strokes to the Texas “Oklahoma Hills” swing. 15-time International Bluegrass Music Association Dobro Player of the Year Rob Ickes performs on three tracks.
The euphonium, a brass instrument not usually heard in old-time jams, is played by Steven Mead, professor of music at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England. The song, “Geordie,” is set in Europe centuries ago, Hinshelwood said.
“Horns are an instrument that I associate with royal courts and I thought this would be a good setting for that,” he said. “I wasn’t looking for a euphonium player. I didn’t even know what a euphonium was, I was looking for a horn player. Just by researching I figured out what a baritone was [horn] was against a euphonium and I started looking for euphonium players, and I found Steven Mead on the internet…and he said he would like to do it. It was a great experience to cross the ocean and be able to collaborate musically with someone.
Hinshelwood recorded his guitar and vocals in his home studio. Of the 24 guests, Debbie Yates and Sandy Shortridge came to Hinshelwood to record, but the other parts were recorded either at the guests’ homes or at studios near their homes. The mix is by Wesley Easter, of Cana.
As steeped in music as he is, Hinshelwood never seriously considered pursuing music full-time, even after winning the Knoxville World Guitar Championship, the Wayne Henderson Guitar Championship, and the Galax Old Fiddlers Guitar Competition. ‘Convention (twice).
“I think I had an idea of how hard life is, especially if you love your home and your community, to give that up and travel all the time as a job. I have no regrets. For me, it was never a life. I certainly liked working in engineering.
After graduating from Christiansburg High School in 1974, he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Virginia Tech. He is a project engineer for the Virginia Department of Health. He served as Executive Director of The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail from 2010 to 2019.
Hinshelwood’s musical road will take him to the McGlothlin Center at Emory & Henry on Monday, for a CD release to benefit Appalachia’s sustainability. He will present the same show on Tuesday at the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech, benefiting the Montgomery Museum of Art and History. Many, but not all, of the artists on the CDs would join him at the live shows, including Ickes, Wiggins, Brown and Hensley.
The CDs will be available for sale at the concerts and also on bandcamp.com.