“We’re just trying to accumulate all of these old-time songs, many of which a lot of people aren’t aware of or have disregarded or are totally obsolete as far as anybody seeking the tunes out to listen to them,” Frank said.
Titled “Treat A Stranger Right,” the album is a collection of traditional melodies that mixes Appalachian ballads and old-time blues selections. Within each number resides not only the timeless nature and historical importance of the songs, but also the sincere passion the couple has for this music and its place in our modern society.
“It’s community music, always a fiddle and a banjo on the porch. It was entertainment, something to do for fun — it brought people together,” Allie said. “And we’re also really interested in the history of the people. There are so many [musicians] that were playing [back then] and they didn’t get to record. So, there’s a lot that’s been lost, and that’s a shame, you know?”
“Nowadays, if someone doesn’t hear music on commercial radio, then [anything outside of that] really doesn’t exist to the masses,” Frank added. “And we have this attitude that if this traditional music was good at one time long ago, then it’s still good now.”
One-half of The Freight Hoppers, a longtime and beloved Swain County string band, the Lees each found their way to natural beauty and rich cultural heritage of Western North Carolina in their own time — Frank from Atlanta, with Allie hailing from Indiana.
“My [initial] exposure to folk music started with church camp [as a kid], just being around people singing outside with acoustic guitars,” Allie said. “People would pass down these camp songs through the generations, [which is] the same with these Appalachian ballads and old-time melodies.”
“Being from Atlanta, I love the fact some of the very first music recorded was right in downtown where I was born — there’s something special with that to me,” Frank noted. “And my grandfather was around Atlanta then and played banjo. When I play this music, I imagine a time when he might have been able to hang out with some of those old-time musicians.”
Recorded last summer at Big Creek Music studios in Barnardsville, “Treat a Stranger Right” (taken from Blind Willie Johnson’s “Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right”) showcases the Lees craft through precise instrumentation on each carefully selected tune.
“‘Treat a Stranger Right’ is a great message for anytime, but it’s particularly important for right now — it’s something that’s been heavy on our minds,” Allie said. “And it made us think about all these kind people we meet when we’re touring [around the country], who invite us into their home, maybe give us a bed and feed us.”
The album is filled with uplifting, swirling tones that are showcased from the couple’s musical talents that radiate from the banjo, fiddle, acoustic guitar and harmonica. It also showcases the intricate splendor of the songs, with the Lees being another vital interpretation of traditional ballads, where each musician throughout the years may have a different take on a particular tune.
“Each region of this country has a unique way of presenting a traditional song. The uniqueness is as varied as dialects in our language and culture — that’s important and worth cherishing,” Frank said.
With the album now out, Frank & Allie are currently preparing for an upcoming performance run through Florida. Though the route is haphazard, it purposely touches upon the key locations where fans (and soon to be fans) of old-time and traditional music reside. For the Lees, it’s about seeking out and preserving the past, but also perpetuating the history, lore and melodic beauty for generations to come.
“We do what we do, I guess, because we’re both rebels. We’re a little bit counterculture because what drives us is finding and playing the oldest, most interesting music,” Allie said. “It’s like finding this great piece of China in an antique shop, something beautiful but forgotten. We see that same beauty and value in this music, and we want to share it with anyone who will listen.”
‘Treat A Stranger Right’
The latest album by Frank & Allie, “Treat A Stranger Right,” is now available for purchase at www.frankandallie.com. You can also find the release on all streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.
Alongside numerous local and regional tour dates, Frank & Allie will be performing during a special Valentine’s Day dinner celebration from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, in The Mountview Bistro at Fontana Village Resort. For more information and/or to RSVP, visit www.fontanavillage.com or call 828.498.2115.
As well, The Smoky Mountain News will host a Q&A and performance with Frank & Allie later this spring. Stay tuned for more information in a future issue of the newspaper.