"Now & Then"

Arlington Cultural Affairs

FIDDLER SPEEDY Tolliver's debut solo CD was slow in coming, all right -- 87 years in the making. But after listening to "Now & Then," which contains a batch of newly recorded tunes and three vintage tracks, it's easy to understand why his enduring musical charm and vitality is still cause for celebration.

A living link to seminal East Coast string band traditions -- and a winner at one of the renowned White Top Folk Festivals in the '30s -- the Virginia-born octogenarian remains a surefire crowd pleaser with a repertoire influenced by country, blues, pop and jazz. Indeed, if he has ever grown tired of performing the familiar and not so familiar tunes collected here, there are no signs of it, not even a hint.

Tolliver's rendering of "Orange Blossom Special," for example, has plenty going for it, what with its unvarnished, old-timey propulsion. But more than anything else, what make this oft-traveled excursion so enjoyable is Tolliver's sense of whimsy. He can't resist the temptation to tickle listeners with an apt melodic allusion ("I've Been Working on the Railroad") or an uncharted tangent. Another tune enlivened by his playing and playfulness is "Listen to the Mockingbird," with it chirping tones and an unabashed showmanship.

Apparently, Tolliver doesn't pick up the banjo anymore. But evidence of his prowess on the instrument surfaces at the end of "Now & Then," via one of three home recordings he made in the '40s. Otherwise, the performances find the fiddler collaborating with several like-minded area musicians, in the studio or onstage, and clearly inspired by their company.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Sunday at the Ellipse Arts Center in Arlington.

Speedy Tolliver is a master fiddler.