"Land of the Sky"

Maggie's Music

The area around Asheville, N.C., is often called the "Land of the Sky," and that has become the title of a new album by Al Petteway and Amy White. At the heart of the project are five traditional songs from the southern Appalachian Mountains, such well-known songs as "The Cuckoo" and "Wayfaring Stranger" that came from England and Ireland but acquired a new, distinctive sound when they crossed the ocean and climbed the foothills. Soaked in lessons of loss and survival, these songs boast a hardness that resists all attempts to make them quaint and folksy.

The album's nine original tunes take their cue from these five ancient numbers. Petteway and White compose instrumental pieces full of counterpointed lines and unusual harmonies, but they're all built on the kind of front-porch melodies and flinty rhythms that link them to an earlier tradition. The husband-and-wife team plays a variety of acoustic stringed instruments -- guitar, banjo, mandolin, bouzouki and harp -- and even adds vocals to two of the 14 tracks. But they don't need words to capture the whiff of death around old murder ballads such as "Shady Grove" and "Pretty Polly"; their guitars are eloquent enough.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Saturday at Jammin' Java.