Archive for the ‘CD/LP reviews’ Category

Classic Field Recordings on JSP

October 28, 2014

image

from redlick.com:

CLASSIC FIELD RECORDINGS 1936 to 1940 – LANDMARK COUNTRY SESSIONS FROM A LOST ERA (JSP77131 4 cd set)

Johnnie Barfield, McLendon Brothers, Dewey & Gassie Bassett, Roy Shaffer, Four Pickled Peppers, Tennessee Ramblers, Pine Ridge Boys, Happy Valley Boys, Pete Pyle, Walter Couch & The Wilks Ramblers, JH Howell, Walter Hurdt, George Wade & The Caro-Ginians, Hinson Pitts & Coley, Smith’s Carolina Crackerjacks, Julian Johnson & Leon Hyatt, Grady & Hazel Cole, Hill Brothers with Willie Simmons, Blind Fiddler, Jack Pierce, Lester Pete Bivins, Gwen Foster, Louisiana Lou, The Southern Melody Boys, The Rouse Brothers.

The records used on this 100 track box set were made on various field trips organised by the RCA Victor Company in the 1930s for release on their brand new Bluebird label. Sales in country music had dropped dramatically since big sellers like Jimmie Rodgers, Gid Tanner and Fiddlin’ John Carson had died or retired and times were tough so record buying was a low priority for southern folk. It was a risk, but Bluebird knew that in the hills and hollers of the southern mountains there were some great musicians just waiting to get on record and hit the big time.

Auditions were set up in New York, Chicago, Charlotte and Rock Hill, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia. Most of the new discoveries never made the big time but they did sell well in their own territories and, thanks to collectors like the award winning recording engineer and record producer Chris King, they’ve been preserved and are now getting another moment in the spotlight thanks to this box set.

It is a box full of obscurities and unknowns but the eagle eyed among you will pick out Gwen Foster, late of the  Carolina Tarheels and Clarence Ashley outfits on two songs; the chirpy How Many Biscuits and a re-make of his old hit Sideline Blues with, it’s assumed, The Three Tobacco Tags as backing musicians. Foster fills both tunes with his hundred miles an hour harmonica solos and there’s some pretty hot fiddle in there as well. (more…)

African Roots Revival

October 18, 2014

 

from http://www.muzikifan.com:

AFRICAN ROOTS REVIVAL (Rough Guide RGNet1269)

The roots music showcased here is not traditional folk-in-aspic but rather a vibrant movement that is ever-evolving, with instruments often born out of necessity. Large plastic jugs can be used over and over for carrying or storing liquids, they can also be beaten to make a satisfying thud.

Africans have long made thumb-pianos from wood and nails, and more recently flattened tin cans and other recycled metals, which can also be fashioned into guitars, with bicycle wire strings. I was keen to check this out because, apart from Staff Benda Bilili, Konono Numero Un, Kasai All Stars, Seprewa Kasa and a few other familiar names there were some unknown to me.

So I am thrilled to discover the Bedouin Jerry Can Band, whose music still sounds traditional, even when played on scrap ammo boxes backing their flute and five-stringed lyre. Then there are the bands that use more convention instruments such as mbira or ngoni.

Two East African mbira groups are represented: Hukwe Zawose’s offspring, known as the Zawose Family from Tanzania, and Zimbabwean Mbira Dzenharira who play lovely meditative cyclical music on their massed thumb pianos. Other thumb pianists are Konono, Kasai All Stars and, new to me, Papa Kourand, who all hail from Congo.

Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba have become quite well known in the West with their bluesy Malian music featuring the (also pentatonic) ngoni. Before we get lost in the mellowness of it all, the abrasive electric likembes of Konono No 1 jar us awake, from their Live at Couleur Café album.

I predict Jagwa Music will emerge to become more widely recognised, like Staff Benda or Konono. Then we get three lesser-known but accomplished acts, two of them from worldmusicnet’s own Riverboat series: Zulu musician Shiyani Ngcobo and Mamane Barka, a harp player from Niger. This is portable, intimate music and the disc represents a good cross-section of current artists renewing their own musical traditions.

Take Me to the Water

October 13, 2014

a1188638747_2Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950, edited by Jim Linderman, Luc Sante (Dust-to-Digital)

reviewed by Justin Brooks (www.popmatters.com):

Absolutely none of these cuts should be familiar to the average person. All apologies to my distant relatives The Carter Family, but “Denomination Blues, Part 1” by Washington Phillips is the only track on this compilation that I’d ever actually heard before. A good deal of the artists were familiar to me by way of my immersion (sorry, couldn’t help myself) in Dust-to-Digital’s staggering Goodbye, Babylon box. Evoking that former release, the compilers make no effort to segregate the music in any way: string bands and hillbilly hollers jostle grittier blues and folk numbers for breathing room.

 

Unlike Babylon though, the sermons included here are interspersed throughout, making for a slightly more diverse listening experience. While we are on the subject, this reviewer sees Take Me to the Water as-among other thing-a beautifully packaged addendum to the already splendid Goodbye, Babylon.

 

There are 25 tracks on the disc that accompanies this set and quite frankly, most of them are jewels. As with any compilation or proper album, a certain song may strike you just the right way on a particular day, so with material of this quality, the best cuts ultimately depend on the listener.

 

Washington Phillips, a ‘jack-leg preacher’ of the first degree, is represented here with “Denomination Blues Part 1”, in which his delicate vocal is accompanied by a strange zither-esque “novelty instrument.”  This cut may be the catchiest pre-war gospel/blues since Skip James’ “Jesus is a Mighty Good Leader.”  Now that may mean a little or a lot, depending on how far down the rabbit-hole of this kind of music you want to go.

 

By far the most popular artist represented here is The Carter Family, whose “On My Way to Canaan’s Land” may just be an artistic representation of Mother Maybelle’s actual baptism. Classic call and response of the hillbilly variety is accounted for too with the Carolina Tar Heels’ “I’ll Be Washed”.  The intermingling of the sermon fragments—which often break out in song—with the tunes is a sly move on the part of the compilers, as the preachers’ intonations always take on a rhythmic quality and the fiery intensity helps move these pieces, and the set itself, forward.

Georgia Yellow Hammers on Document

October 6, 2014

unnamedfrom http://document-records.com:

We have been working with Tony Russell, Harry Bolick and others to expand the series and we are delighted to present the first two volumes in a series of four of The Georgia Yellowhammers: Bill Chitwood and Bud Landress, with their friends Phil Reeve, Ernest Moody and Clyde Evans, and associates such as Andrew and Jim Baxter, the Harper brothers, Gus Boaz, Lawrence Neal and others, would represent and promote the musical culture of their region for most of a decade. Thanks to them, Gordon County, Georgia, has come to be held in high regard by lovers of old-time Southern music.

Today we can see it as a prism, its facets reflecting the different forms of Southern music: old-time fiddling, quartet singing, stringband ensembles, rustic comedy, yodelling, blues.”

Aided by this collection (and the music of the Baxters, available elsewhere on Document), we can hold a magnifying glass over a map of Gordon County, so that towns and communities leap into large-print life.

We see the streets of Calhoun and Resaca and Sugar Valley, hear the rattle of wagon wheels and the distant whistle of the railroad train, the massed voices from the singing convention in Calhoun’s City Auditorium, the strains of contesting fiddlers at the Courthouse, of the Baxters playing for picnickers at Dew’s Pond, and of Bill and Bud and their cronies serenading the townsfolk in Gentlemen’s Park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nonesuch Records

October 3, 2014

 

edited from afropop.org:

50 Years of Nonesuch: Three Essential Albums

1. The Soul of Mbira: Traditions of the Shona People of Rhodesia

explorer-africa-zimbabwe-soul-of-mbira

The Soul of Mbira, released in 1973, is one of the great gems of Nonesuch’s Explorer Series, which put previously hard to find field recordings in the hands of a broad public. These beautiful field recordings were made by ethnomusicologist Paul Berliner, who also contributed to our “Art of Improvisation, Part 2” program as a Hip Deep scholar. The mbira, a wooden instrument with up to 52 metal keys, often with a gourd resonator, is played traditionally by the Shona people of Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), both for entertainment and religious ceremonies. The Soul of Mbira compiles four types of mbira playing: matepe, mbira dzavadzimu, ndimba and njari.

2. Oumou Sangare: Worotan

41GGTE08WNL

Oumou Sangare is a singer of wassoulou music, a style from Mali’s southwest region that borders Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire. Worotan, her third album, contains a message in support of women’s rights that traveled powerfully from West Africa to a worldwide audience, thanks to its release on Nonesuch. Worotan also includes saxophone playing from the great Pee Wee Ellis, known for his work with James Brown and Van Morrison.

3. Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté: In the Heart of the Moon

41r6+CQcmRL._SY300_

A collaboration between guitarist Ali Farka Touré and kora player Toumani Diabaté, In the Heart of the Moon was recorded at the Hotel Mandé on the Niger River. The record brings together Songhai traditions from Touré’s origins in northern Mali with Bambara styles of Diabaté’s home region in the south. Touré, who passed away a year after the record was released in 2005, was widely appreciated as one of the greatest guitarists in the world, while Diabaté, who descends from 70 generations of griots, continues to tour the world and is the most successful kora player of his time.

Corn Dodgers and Hoss Hair Pullers

October 1, 2014

from http://www.dust-digital.com:

Arkansas at 78 RPM: Corn Dodgers and Hoss Hair Pullers (Dust-to-Digital CD)

Description: CD Digipak with 32 page booklet featuring liner notes by Tony Russell and photographs from the collection of Maxine Payne

 
Images & Recordings from Rural Arkansas: Recently discovered photographs inspire two new publications.

 
In the 1930s, the Massengill family of rural Arkansas built three portable photography studios on old truck frames, attached each to the back of any car that would run, and started a mobile photo booth business that would last for a decade. Making Pictures: Three for a Dime, featuring Massengill family prints and photo albums collected by artist Maxine Payne, illuminates a sliver of the Depression-era South previously unseen by the public.

Arkansas at 78 RPM: Corn Dodgers & Hoss Hair Pullers serves as the soundtrack to Making Pictures and allows us to hear how the voices of that time and region sounded, by carrying the listener from the hillbilly music craze of the 1920s to the song-based country music of the late ’30s.

Produced by April and Lance Ledbetter utilizing transfers from the Music Memory archive, “Arkansas at 78 RPM: Corn Dodgers and Hoss Hair Pullers” features original recordings made between 1928-1937. The CD and the 32-page booklet serve as a companion album to the newly-released photograph book, “Making Pictures: Three for a Dime” by Maxine Payne. All of the photos in this package are from the same cache of photographs taken by the Massengil family in their mobile photo-booth trailer throughout rural Arkansas in the 1930s-1940s.

“For the traveling recording men of the late 1920s, Arkansas offered enticing pickings. The region was thronged with vigorous, idiosyncratic stringbands. This album carries the listener from the hillbilly music craze of the ’20s to the song-based country music of the late ’30s. Scarcely more than a decade, but a period, in music as in all American life, of galvanic change.” – Tony Russell, from the liner notes

Kneelin’ Down Inside the Gate

September 29, 2014

11661-5035-2

Kneelin’ Down Inside the Gate: The Great Rhyming Singers of the Bahamas (Rounder CD)

from rounder.com and liner notes by Jody Stecher:
When these recording were made in 1965 in Nassau, the Bahamas, these singers — including Joseph Spence, the Pinder Family and Frederick McQueen — were at the height of their powers. Coming from Nassau and the Andros, Abaco and Mores Islands, most of these singers were already over sixty years old when they recorded the lovely spirituals, anthems, rhyming songs and ballads heard here.

Today, this powerful and complex music has virtually disappeared, making the release of these recordings all the more invaluable and historically important. Kneelin’ Down Inside the Gate was recorded by Peter K. Siegel and Jody Stecher, the team responsible for the Elektra/Nonesuch label’s two volume series titled The Real Bahamas.

The first volume, issued in 1966, is a beloved and influential album, cherished and absorbed by countless musicians — such as Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal — and was the source for the Incredible String Band’s “I Bid You Goodnight,” a song that was the heartbreaking, joyous finale of live shows throughout their career. Except for three tracks recorded in 1965, the tracks recorded here come from the same legendary field trip that produced The Real Bahamas, and have never been issued before.

Rhyming is a uniquely Bahamian way of developing a song.  A singer intones verses, “rhymes,” over a repeating time cycle created by the words, rhythms, and harmonies of bass and treble support singers.

Joseph Spence’s “What a Beautiful Home” was recorded in Peter Siegel’s home in NYC a month before we journeyed to the Bahamas.  It captures Spence in a tender and reflective mood.  For me, it recalls his personal sweetness and the first words he spoke to me: “You like banana?”

 

Recording Black Culture

September 26, 2014

 

from http://blackgrooves.org:

Title: John Work, III: Recording Black Culture

Label: Spring Fed Records (SFR 104)

In 1993 Alan Lomax published his book The Land Where the Blues Began, to great popular and critical acclaim. The book told the story of his collecting adventures in the Mississippi Delta fifty years earlier, “discovering” and recording artists such as Son House, Muddy Waters, and David “Honeyboy” Edwards.

In their co-edited book Lost Delta Found: Rediscovering the Fisk University-Library of Congress Coahoma County Study, 1941-1942, Robert Gordon and Bruce Nemerov detail the larger picture of the same collecting trips made by Lomax in the early 1940s by including the equally large contributions of Fisk University scholars (a collaboration which was almost completely obfuscated in The Land Where the Blues Began) and paying particular attention to the work of John Wesley Work, III. With the release of the CD John Work, III: Recording Black Culture, we now have the music to match the text of Lost Delta Found (through it’s not a companion piece), along with greater evidence of the variety of black musical culture in the early part of the twentieth century.

Recording Black Culture separates its14 tracks into six categories: Social Songs (fiddle and banjo tunes), The Quartets, Work Song, Congregational Singing, Blues, and Colored Sacred Harp (shape note congregational singing). On display here are both secular and sacred musics, though the liner notes indicate Work was mostly interested in secular “folk” musics. The wide range of music that is offered was almost entirely recorded before Work and his Fisk colleagues joined forces with Lomax and the Library of Congress for the trip to the delta.

Work’s recordings were done in and around Nashville Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi. Many of the recordings have poor fidelity (even for historical recordings) and lend some insight as to why Fisk may have contacted the Library of Congress about a joint venture into the Delta: they wanted the more sophisticated equipment used by Lomax. In this regard Work was right, the tracks that surfaced later in Lomax’s collections are much higher in fidelity (e.g., The Land Where the Blues Began Rounder CD) and Work’s recordings are surely more interesting to a scholar than to most casual listeners.

Of the highest fidelity and given five tracks on the compilation are songs of The Quartets, including, with an egalitarian sprite, the Holloway High School Quartet, The Fairfield Four, The Heavenly Gate Quartet (a group of Work’s friends who sang together), and two unnamed groups. Here we have vocal harmony groups singing religious music in jubilee style with tight vocal parts and pulsating rhythms.

The intimate sound of the quartets, specifically on the two tracks of the Heavenly Gate Quartet, provide great examples of vernacular presentations of popular stylings of the day, including “If I Had My Way.” Other tracks on the album, such as the congregational version of “Amazing Grace,” are harder to hear and are best left for academic scrutiny rather than pleasure listening. Many of these recordings are of particular interest because of their rarity; for example, the only known recording of blues street musician Joe Holmes singing “Ain’t Gonna Drink No Mo’,” as well as the ulta-rare recordings of fiddle and banjo players Ned Frazier and Frank Patterson that lead off the compilation.

The CD is packaged with comprehensive liner notes written by Bruce Nemerov and aided by archival photos of the people, places, equipment, and songbooks used during this era. Though the recording quality lacks the fidelity of other field collections of the time, and the repertoire is perhaps too wide ranging for some tastes, the packaging and release of this material (a joint effort between local, state, and federal arts agencies) offers further proof of what many musicians have known for years, that rural black music is not, and was never solely the blues.

Calypso Craze (Bear Family Box Set)

September 20, 2014

382b0f3e32922c01c168526a85ae984b_bcd16947a

from http://www.bear-family.com:

Calypso Craze (6-CD / 1-DVD boxed set (LP-size) with 176-page hardcover book, 173 tracks. Total playing time approx. 484 mns. – DVD: 14 chapters, c. 86 minutes)

From late 1956 through mid-1957, calypso was everywhere: not just on the Hit Parade, but on the dance floor and the TV, in movie theaters and magazines, in college student unions and high school glee clubs. There were calypso card games, clothing lines, and children’s toys. Calypso was the stuff of commercials and comedy routines, news reports and detective novels.

Nightclubs across the country hastily tacked up fishnets and palm fronds and remade themselves as calypso rooms. Singers donned straw hats and tattered trousers and affected mock-West Indian ‘ahk-cents.’ And it was Harry Belafonte – not Elvis Presley – who with his 1956 album ‘Calypso’ had the first million-selling LP in the history of the record industry. No wonder reporters and marketers joined the trade journals and fanzines in declaring a ‘Calypso Craze.’ In fact, by the time ‘Variety’ announced “Hot Trend: Trinidado Tunes” (on the cover of its December 26, 1956 issue), the Craze was already well underway.

How calypso came from Trinidad to America and found such celebrity, vying seriously (if only fleetingly) with rock ‘n’ roll for the affections of the nation’s youth, is one of the stranger tales of modern popular music. This collection offers an overview of calypso’s slow rise, heady prominence, and precipitous fall in America and beyond in the period surrounding the Calypso Craze of 1956-57.

•    Trinidadian calypsonians Lion, Atilla, Radio, and Caresser; Beginner, Invader, and Kitchener; Terror, Cristo and Panther
•    Trinidadian expatriates Wilmoth Houdini, Duke of Iron, Sir Lancelot, and MacBeth the Great
•    Other West Indians (and Bermudians) such as Lloyd Thomas, Lord Flea, Lord Foodoos, Mighty Zebra, The Talbot Brothers, Sidney Bean, Hubert Smith, Blind Blake, Enid Mosier, The Eloise Trio, Edric Connor, George Browne, and Frank Holder
•    Folksingers The Tarriers, Terry Gilkyson and The Easy Riders, Stan Wilson, and The Kingston Trio

Bonus DVD:
•    Unseen in over 55 years – a ‘Calypso Craze’ feature-length film never before issued on video or broadcast on television: ‘Calypso Joe’ (Allied Artists, 1957), starring Herb Jeffries and Angie Dickinson, and featuring Duke of Iron and The Easy Riders
•    Four short ‘soundies’ from the 1940s and 50s, with Sam Manning and ‘Belle Rosette’ (Beryl McBurnie), Broadway and big-band singer Gracie Barrie covering Stone Cold Dead In The Market, and Lord Cristo and the March Of Dimes Quartet

Ballads and Songs of Tradition

September 17, 2014
Various Artists - Ballads and Songs of Tradition

Ballads and Songs of Tradition

Various Artists

Folk-Legacy CD-125
Reviewed by Ed Cray

from http://www.acousticmusic.com:

Since he first met the Beech Mountain, North Carolina-native Frank Proffitt at the 1961 Chicago Folk Festival, Sandy Paton, his wife Caroline, and Lee Baker Haggerty have sought out traditional singers to record their songs and ballads. Paton, Paton, and Haggerty have spent the better part of a lifetime scraping and scrimping to fund the next trip to the Appalachians, Ozarks, or upper New York state, making time to edit the tapes, writing and printing the unusually thoughtful notes that marked their records and tapes, and selling the successive releases that made Folk-Legacy a recorded resource of Anglo-American traditional songs and singers second to none.

In all of the releases, there have been some choice recoveries of the muckle ballads thought long-since dead: Sandy Paton lists among them Sara Cleveland’s Queen Jane, a version of The King’s Daughter Lady Jean (Child 52) never previously recorded in the United States; Frank Proffitt’s Bonny James Campbell (Child 210); Jeannie Robertson’s superb Twa Brothers (Child 49); and Joe Estey’s Hind Horn (Child 17), of which there have been but seven other versions reported in the New World.

If nothing else, the Patons and Haggerty have proven these great song-stories are not dead at all—an oral tradition survives. In fact, Sandy Paton notes, the songs of the parents are preserved by the singing of the children. Frank Proffitt, Jr., sings his father’s repertoire; Colleen Cleveland sings her grandmother’s. As it was, so it is; time without end.

Which brings us to Ballads and Songs of Tradition, the first of a planned series of anthologies of traditional songs and ballads Folk-Legacy is to release. Here are 21 ballads by 13 singers recorded in North Carolina living rooms and Scots croft kitchens. They have been culled from the Paton archives. Many of them are previously unreleased—all of them are choice.

The Patons being comparative folklorists at heart cannot resist a touch of gentle scholarship in their choices. They provide contrasting versions of three ballads: Gypsy Davy (Child 200), The House Carpenter (Child 243), and a British 19th-Century broadside (?), which IS new to me, The Old Arm Chair. Of the 21 tracks, it is difficult to select favorites, but Scots housewife Lizzie Higgins’ My Bonnie Boy is a marvel of delicately ornamented phrases. (Ms. Higgins comes by it naturally; she is the daughter of Jeannie Robertson and Donald Higgins, a master of the Highland pipes.) Her mother’s Twa Brothers (Child 49) is truly gripping: six and one-half minutes of blood-drenched drama. Similarly, Marie Hare of Strathadam, New Brunswick, retells the grim fate of Lost Jimmie Whalen (Laws B 1); her sheer artistry compels attention, no matter how familiar or inevitable the story.

All of which, I think, is the point of this anthology. Paton, Paton and Haggerty are intent on demonstrating that folk singers do possess an aesthetic sense. It is surely different from that of the classically trained or popular singer, but nonetheless it is real — and underappreciated. Voice, instrument, even self are subordinated to the words, to the narrative. That is the anything but simple artistry of the 13 traditional singers presented in this excellent first collection of a promised series of anthologies drawn from the Folk-Legacy archives.

Fijian String Band music

September 15, 2014

UNES08316

from http://www.folkways.si.edu:

FIJI: Songs of Love and Homeland: String Band Music (Smithsonian Folkways CD)
UNESCO COLLECTION OF TRADITIONAL MUSIC
From island villages of Fiji in the Melanesian South Pacific, the songs known as
sere ni cumu are music of a special time and place. These 1986 recordings represent social
songs that brought life and togetherness to the beer- or kava-drinking gatherings of the 1920s and
beyond.
Drawing from pre-European texts and music styles, as well as European melodies
and harmonies and ukulele and guitar accompaniment, they mark the sound of Fiji village
life of their era. 58 minutes, 22-page notes.
The three guitars used are all standard acoustic guitars, but they
function as “lead,” “rhythm,” or “bass” in the songs. The use of
three guitars with such functional roles and designations is unusual in
sere ni cumu village groups on Taveuni and Kadavu,
and is based on the practice of electric Western and Fijian
bands.
The rhythm guitar had only the bottom five strings at
the time of recording, while the bass had only the bottom three
strings in place, and the ukulele had three strings instead of
four. The three strings of the ukulele were tuned to form a
major chord.
The tuning of the three guitars generally followed
the standard sequence of intervals, but not all guitars were
tuned to the same pitches and were fingered or barred
idiosyncratically. The rhythm guitarist and the ukulele strum
chords, while the bass guitar picks out bass patterns.

 

CLASSIC AFRICAN AMERICAN SONGSTERS

September 12, 2014

470

from redlick.com:

CLASSIC AFRICAN AMERICAN SONGSTERS

Smithsonian Folkways (SFWCD40211)

Pink Anderson, Bill Williams, Little Brother Montgomery, Reverend Gary Davis, Brownie McGhee, Warner Williams, Peg Leg Sam, Snooks Eaglin, Big Bill Broonzy, Lead Belly and more…

Another dip into the deep well of their extensive archives, this time the good folk at Smithsonian Folkways have taken on the compilation of 21 songs from ‘songsters’,  the meaning of which has long eluded me. Thankfully, it does not seem that it is just me being a little dense, as respected music scholar Barry Lee Pearson acknowledges the problems of such a definition in his introductory essay to the impressive 40 page booklet that accompanies this CD.

Having spent much of his essay exploring and explaining these difficulties, he identifies the working premise that the label adopted when selecting titles for inclusion here – ‘a non-blues compilation encompassing songs that preceded blues, hybrids of blues and other song forms, and a variety of genres including old-timey string band standards, ragtime, country and Tin Pan Alley pop.’

Clear now? Me neither. Fortunately, it matters not a jot as the music on offer is exemplary throughout, featuring big-names a-plenty plus a few who may be new to most.

Proceedings get off to an excellent start with a lightweight but enjoyable live version of the traditional Bring It On Down To My House by Warner Williams With Jay Summerour, artists new to me who also contribute a lovely version of Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose. Another unfamiliar name whose performance here shines out is Marvin Foddrell, a singer and guitarist from Virginia whose version of Reno Factory is both quietly haunting and delightful. As  is the closing track from Carl Martin, Ted Bogan and Howard Armstrong, a ragged live take from 1986 of They Cut Down The Old Pine Tree.

More familiar names usually associated with the songster tag include Mississippi John Hurt, with a 1964 version of Monday Morning Blues featuring his reliably charming vocals and intricate finger-picked guitar, and John Jackson, who contributes an authoritative version of Nobody’s Business If I Do and masterful reading of Charlie Poole’s Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down.

Despite long being a personal favourite of mine, I wouldn’t normally associate Little Brother Montgomery with being a songster but his Alabama Bound is present and very correct, full of his sumptuous piano rolls and warm, expressive vocals.

Another winner therefore in a popular series of themed compilations from an extensive archive, beautifully balancing big names and performances with plenty of rare and little known material.

Mento, Not Calypso

September 9, 2014

 from http://stagoleeshop.com:

mNOTcSmallMento, Not Calypso: the Original Sound of Jamaica (2 cds, Fantastic Voyage)

Though often erroneously regarded as simply a variation of Calypso, Jamaican Mento is a distinct musical style that developed independently from its similarly styled Trinidadian cousin. The genre remained Jamaica’s most popular form of indigenous music from the post war years up until the development of Shuffle Blues and its immediate successor, Ska, in the early sixties.

The distinctive sound produced by early exponents of the style was a result of the combination of vocals, banjo, acoustic guitar, hand percussion and a rumba box, all frequently enhanced by homemade saxophone, clarinet or bamboo flute.

Mento, Not Calypso! features some of the earliest recordings in the genre, dubbed directly from the original Jamaican 78s, with many featuring on CD for the first time. Compiled by Mento aficionado, Mike Murphy, the 2CD set is unquestionably the most definitive collection of the style yet to see issue and as such will appeal to those seeking to discover the origins of modern Jamaican music as well as the less discerning buyer simply wishing to enhance their summer barbecue!

Seeger, Hartford, Grisman

September 3, 2014

from http://www.chicagoreader.com:

Retrograss is Mike Seeger, John Hartford, and David Grsman.  The band’s only album, the 1999 Retrograss (Acoustic Disc), is an inconsistent, fascinating mess: the old-timey treatment doesn’t flatter Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” quite the way it does the Beatles’ goofy “When I’m Sixty-Four.” Hartford’s mannered vocals are the disc’s most serious flaw, especially on Chuck Berry’s “Memphis” and the Redding tune–he often sounds like he’d rather be somewhere else.

And on “Hound Dawg,” a sparse arrangement of the Big Mama Thornton song Elvis made famous, Hartford and Grisman’s stilted enunciation comes off as almost parodic. Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” on the other hand, works fine as a Dock Boggs tune, and Berry’s “Maybellene” sounds appropriately hot-blooded propelled by the boing-boing of Seeger’s mouth harp and Hartford’s bluesy banjo–probably because Berry adapted it from a country song in the first place.

Unsurprisingly, Retrograss does just as well, if not better, when it covers folk and bluegrass tunes: Randall Hylton’s “Room at the Top of the Stairs” prickles with existential dread, Hartford’s fiddle bawling convulsively over Seeger’s obsessive single-chord banjo patterns, and standards like Earl Scruggs’s “Flint Hill Special” and Jimmy Martin’s “My Walking Shoes” practically catch fire.

“Historical Recordings by Hugh Tracey”

September 2, 2014

SWP034

from http://www.muzikifan.com/tracey.html:

The Sharp Wood series of reissue CDs titled “Historical Recordings by Hugh Tracey” ended last year with vols. 20 and 21, but there’s lots to be explored and I am constantly on the lookout to complete my set. It’s a modest enough shelf but already expanded considerably over the 10-inch LPs that were issued in the fifties (with Tracey’s inimitable spoken introductions), including many previously unreleased gems of roots music as well as the unexpected pleasure of the modern dance band sets that wind up the list.

Sharp Wood has put out a new sampler that grazes the surface and gives one track from each album. This is welcome enough, even if you have most of the CDs, because it is well programmed, but here’s the kicker: there are SIX bonus tracks of previously unreleased recordings from the famous 1952 Tracey encounter with Jean Bosco Mwenda.

This is the cornerstone of modern African guitar music and anyone with any interest in soukous, benga, mbaqanga, makossa, or any of the other Central African pop sounds, needs to get hold of this crucial set to hear how a genius guitarist took the likembe style of interwoven arpeggios and turned it into sublime guitar patterns.

You will hear an eerie Zulu reedpipe orchestra that is followed by the punk rock thrum of the nguni, also from South Africa, timbila xylophones, thumb pianos, and another of Tracey’s notable guitar discoveries, George Sibanda, giving us his classic “Guabi guabi.” I find myself singing along to “easy weechy lay banana…”

And then the big bomber: the song I consider Tracey’s single most outstanding recording, “Chemirocha,” a paean to Jimmie Rodgers (yes, the country singer) by some Kenyan girls. The song is haunting but made more so by Tracey’s introduction on the LP record (not included on the CD): “The mysterious singer and dancer Chemirocha has been turned into a local god Pan — a faun — half man, half antelope. He is urged by the girls to do the leaping dance, familiar to all Kipsigis, so energetically that he will jump clear out of his clothes… Who could resist such an offer?” Tracey concludes. The charm of the spoken introductions is they make each record like a radio show with real educational value.

Hugh Tracey (1903-77) was an English farmer in South Africa who couldn’t understand why no one was interested in native music or traditions and set out to document it. His archive constitutes the collective musical memory of half the continent. He had great taste and superb skill with the simple recording equipment he used.

The Bosco material is particularly important because two songs, “Masanga” and “Mama na mwana,” were included on the breakthrough GUITARS OF AFRICA record (Decca LF1170 1952) and one of them, “Masanga,” was picked to lead off the African Music Society’s LP BEST MUSIC FOR 1952.  Consequently Pete Seeger and other American folkies learned to play it and the finger-picking style of Bosco became a test of musical prowess for young guitarists.

“Yodelers, Guitars, and Accordions”

August 31, 2014

kikuyu

by Elijah Wald:

Classic Kikuyu Music:  Yodelers, Guitars, and Accordions (available from www.elijahwald.com)

This CD combines two extremely varied cassettes of Kikuyu music sold in Nairobi in 1990. The music ranges from the wonderful Jimmie Rodgers yodeling of Sammy Ngako (the only performer I could identify by name) to a cappella choruses and accordion numbers.

Many of the songs show a clear debt to American country and western, in one case even including a fiddle intro. Others are obviously based on traditional local rhythms, and still others reflect combinations of these styles and even a hint of Harry Belafonte-style calypso.

There is both fingerstyle and flatpicked guitar, and while none of the performers are astounding virtuosos, there is a startling variety of approaches to the instrument. As for the accordion, it sometimes suggests a relationship to zydeco, though that is clearly a matter of shared roots rather than direct interaction.

The a cappella pieces sound quite traditional, and include two by a wonderful female singer with responses by a backing chorus. There are also two electric numbers, including one that uses the tune of the old English children’s song “The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night.”

All in all, while the sound is sometimes muddy, it is well worth it for the startling mix of music. Much like American “hillbilly” or country music, this collection reflects a rural population that loved its traditional styles but also sought to blend them with the new sounds arriving on the phonograph and radio, and the breadth of styles reflects the broad tastes of the Kikuyu audience of the time.

 

 

The Spring of Sixty-Five

August 21, 2014

roun2114_cover1

Joseph Spence & The Pinder Family – The Spring of Sixty-Five (Rounder CD)

from http://grapewrath.wordpress.com:

These recordings come from two separate occasions. Six tracks were recorded in New York City during Joseph Spence’s first tour of the U.S., and prominently feature Spence’s guitar and vocals, with harmonies and occasional lead vocals from his sister Edith Pinder. The other seven selections were recorded at the same sessions that yielded the Nonesuch Real Bahamas album, recorded in the backyard of the Pinder family, with Spence accompanied by incredible vocals from the Pinder family, Edith, Raymond, and Geneva.

Their vocals have the same rough-hewn rightness as Spence’s guitar, and the voices intertwine and create spontaneous counterpoint like some sort of coarse Bahamian vocal Dixieland ensemble. Or, as Jody Stecher says in the liner notes, “When the Pinders sing ‘When Jesus Calls Again’ they remind me of a big old living pump organ, complete with leaks and squeaks, and completely irresistible.”

– The Nassau Guardian:“Joseph Spence: The Unforgotten Legend”

Spence, as he was endearingly called by his siblings, his wife and inevitably everyone who came to know him, was raised with his sister and four half-brothers. In his youth, the Out Islands were still largely unpopulated, this meant that there was no access to mainland music. The influences that Joseph Spence did absorb came in the form of Baptist anthems, rhyming spirituals, Tin Pan alley songs, Trinidadian calypso, children’s songs and even Christmas carols. The ingenious guitarist broke new ground finding ways to combine and derive these musical genres into a format that better suited his own voice.The gifted Androsian was most heavily influenced while still in his teens, during a stint as a sponge hooker. Spence would take his guitar with him on these trips. The men whom he accompanied would often spend months at a time out in the “Mud” – the shallow waters where natural sponges were often found and harvested. The choral style developed on the Out Islands known as “rhyming” emerged when spongers were unable to return back to port in time for Sunday fellowship. Instead, they took bible verses, a few basic chords as well as an innate sense of rhythm adaptability and sang out their own service and prayers on the boats, utilisng a call and response format. Spence took hold of the approach and transformed it into something of his own creation. The teenager left the sponge industry one year before the great sponge blight in 1938, which wiped out 90 percent of the Bahamas’ sponge population.

The very first time that Charters heard Joseph Spence playing he was sitting on a wall at a construction site. Charters is said to have checked behind the wall for another guitarist, so layered and rich was Spence’s finger picking approach.

Some years later, in 1964, Fritz Richmond of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band visited the islands on behalf of Vanguard Records as a sort of fact finding trip to see if Joseph Spence was still around. Upon locating the elusive Spence, Richmond sent a a telegram back to the record company saying, “Spence lives. Bring 12 sets of metal bronze strings and a tape recorder.”

 

Been Listening All Day

August 18, 2014

 

image

BLIND JOE TAGGART: BEEN LISTENING ALL DAY (Nehi Records 04)

When I Stand Before The King, Everybody Got To Be Tried, Just Before Jordan, C&O Blues, Goin’ To Rest Where Jesus Is, The Storm Is Passing Over, Take Your Burden To The Lord, Coal River Blues, Keep On The Firing Line, Been Listening All Day and more…

from http://www.redlick.com:

The latest release from a promising new label, launched in late 2013 with three splendid CDs of early blues recordings. Here we have the fourth in the series, and with every one a gem so far, this is already a series well worth collecting.

Featured here are 22 sides from Blind Joe Taggart, one of the pioneers of the school of ‘guitar evangelists’ that arose during the early years of blues recording in the late 1920s. While a less distinctive stylist than the evangelists who have captured most of our attention, most notably of course the fierce fire and brimstone commitment of the incredible Blind Willie Johnson, Taggart’s gentle approach, lightness of touch and stylistic variety make these recordings a very satisfying listen.

This CD presents most of Taggart’s recorded output from between 1926 and 1934 but it is not designed and presented with completists in mind. For this, you would need to go to the two volumes on Document Records (DOCD5153 and DOCD5154) – though DOCD5153 is currently out of print. Elsewhere, 31 of Taggart’s sides are included on JSP’s 4CD overview of guitar evangelists (JSP7759 – Rev Gary Davis And The Guitar Evangelists Volume 2).

This notwithstanding, this is an excellent overview and  great selection of most of his very best sides and well worth having. It offers his earliest religious sides singing duets with Emma Taggart (now thought to be his uncle’s wife) and his later singing duets with wife, Bertha. There are solo vocal recordings involving just Joe on guitar, accompanied by the second guitar of a young Josh White, and even in the company of  unknown supporting violinists and vocalists on a few songs.

As with the other three releases in the series, the packaging is excellent, the sound quality as good as can be hoped for and the notes informative. And the price is not too shabby either! What’s not to like?

The New Kings of Old Time

August 11, 2014

Picture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

from http://www.americanrootsuk.com and http://www.nippertown.com:

SHEESHAM, LOTUS & SON: 1929 – The New Kings of Old Time (Sepiaphone Records)

Anyone wanting to eke out a living from playing music in the U.S in the early decades of the 20th century had to diversify. Charlie Patton, known by many (including me!) as the ‘Father 0f the blues’ didn’t only play the blues, or as it was then known ‘race music,’ but also included some bawdy ‘hokum’ as well as the popular ‘hits’ of those days. Just playing the solemn old blues at a Saturday night dance on one of the plantations would very soon have led to the termination of the performance, perhaps even the performer!
This tremendous trio of Canadians consists of Sheesham Crow on fiddle, harmonica, kazoo, whistling and vocals, Lotus Wight, tenor and five string banjo, kazoo and vocals and ‘Son Sanderson on sousaphone, an instrument that goes a long way to giving this album it’s ‘jug band’ sound. All arrangements are by the trio and the whole album is recorded in mono, live off the floor through a single G7 tubular microphone. Some may argue that this is taking the ‘authenticity’ too far, but ultimately what does it matter?

Certainly many of the old timers would have liked to use the modern day recording technology, with the recording equipment used back in those days being Spartan by comparison, but it could be argued that if this band of ‘throwbacks’ feel comfortable with the equipment then why not use it? The sound is quite distinctive and other than a few of the old bands from the 1920s and 30s their sound is like no one else I can think of.

Their raw musicality creates an incredibly evocative atmosphere and because of the lyrics of some of the songs a humorous element is rarely far away. That is not to say this is a comedy album, far from it. It just seems that they are a band that can bring an authentic tongue in cheek feel to the songs that have a slice of humour, although to make an album of this quality a tremendous degree of skill and concentration is required, as well as a natural feel for these decades old songs, something there is an abundance of with their instrumental prowess and the raw untutored vocals.

Speaking of the songs, album opener and title track, Sam Allison’s ‘1929’ pretty much sets the scene for what is to follow with it’s vaudevillian bluesiness, the raw evocative harmonies, banjo, sousaphone and kazoo ensuring there is no doubt about the musical content of this hugely entertaining album. Next is Keep It Clean, an excellent version of the old blues singer/guitarist Charlie Jordan’s bawdy song, complete with authentic atmospheric sousaphone giving a heavy bassy jug backing that contrasts well with the banjo and fiddle, as well as the, as usual, atmospheric vocals.

Next we have Jackson Stomp an instrumental written by Cow Cow Davenport, the old time blues, jazz and vaudevillian musician, with hard driving fiddle and banjo, underpinned by the sousaphone. In the case of the ‘classic’ Drunken Nights, this version is probably played as the song was intended to be played, again backed up by the bassy sousaphone with sawing fiddle, banjo and what sounds very much like two drunken singers doing their best to blend their slightly discordant harmonies on this tale of an aggrieved drunk!

Daniel  Williams of the legendary East Texas Serenaders wrote the groundbreaking instrumental Mineola Rag, a tune
that blended early Texas swing with what would one day be known as ‘bluegrass.’ Naturally this trio’s version includes the sousaphone on the fiddle driven, incredibly evocative recording that thanks in part to that sousaphone, exhibits a similar originality to recordings made eighty years ago.
http://sheeshamandlotus.com

Worried Blues

July 29, 2014

MI0002325159Worried Blues (JSP 4 CD set)

edited review by Steve Leggett (allmusic.com):

Frank Hutchison of Logan County, West Virginia recorded the slide guitar piece “Worried Blues” for Okeh first in 1926 and again in 1927. The date and place of origin of “fretting” the strings with a hand-held metal bar or glass bottle is unclear, but this was a technique widely used by African American musicians by the early 20th century. A couple of such musicians, Bill Hunt and Henry Vaughn, were important local sources for Hutchison’s music.

This method of noting the strings with a steel bar, sometimes called ”slide guitar,” was also popular amongst late-19th- and 20th-century Hawaiian guitar players, who used it to make very different music that eventually spawned the many hillbilly and country music steel guitar styles still popular in the South.

Hutchison’s timing is representative of many West Virginia and eastern Kentucky musicians who add or subtract phrases in very individualistic ways.  Sherman Lawson, a fiddler who recorded with Hutchison in the late 1920s, remarked to me that Hutchison didn’t keep time very well. Lawson and Hutchison both had their own concept of time and phrasing, not necessarily the same.

In photographs Hutchison played what looks like a small Martin guitar on his lap. He used a thumb pick and probably one or two finger picks and most likely used a small extension nut device over the regular nut in order to raise the strings up high enough off the fingerboard to play with a metal slide.

“Worried Blues” is an intriguing four-disc set that collects the complete recorded works of  Frank Hutchison and singer Kelly Harrell, then splits the final disc between two very different mountain string bands, the Tenneva Ramblers and the Blue Ridge Highballers. All of these artists were active in the Virginia/West Virginia area in the 1920s. (more…)

Emily Dickinson Responds to the Rise and Fall of Paramount Records box set

July 21, 2014

index

by Matthew Fluharty (artoftherural.org):

On the eve of 2014, when all was calm at Art of the Rural headquarters, we received a communication from Emily Dickinson via our patented multiverse – channelling fax machine.

Though the only identifying title of the document read “298,” I sense that it was her response to the much-celebrated Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume 1 set released in late 2013 by Third Man Records (and its head, Jack White) and Revenant Records (led by Dean Blackwood). With a discussion at the New York Public Library including the set’s designers alongside Greil Marcus and Daphne Brooks, and a subsequent appearance on Charlie Rose, the music, mythos, and social history of the lives entwined in the story of Paramount Records is receiving a welcome rush of public attention.

Billed as a “wonder-cabinet,” the physical material of this set is impressive: 6 LPs, a hardback book with history and advertisements, a huge book of liner notes, a packet of ephemera, and, beneath all of that, a usb flash drive shaped like an old-time phonograph stylus assembly that contains 800 songs, even more images, and a web application with which to navigate its archive. All this is in contained in a hefty quarter-sawn oak cabinet with exquisite upholstery and metalwork.

As Grayson Currin noted in his otherwise ecstatic review in Pitchfork, the price tag ($400, which only allows Third Man/Revenenant to break even on the project), places this extraordinary work beyond the reach of the general public. Both in terms of its gorgeously tactile presentation and the depth of its contents, The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume 1 feels like an apex of the last decade’s “reissue movement” just as it underscores many of its cultural and aesthetic contradictions.

In this light, Ms. Dickinson’s communique illuminates the power and ambiguity within this set, as well as the need to come to terms with last century’s massive African-American rural diaspora — so many of whom stood before the recording machines for Paramount and its contemporaries:

Alone, I cannot be -

For Hosts – do visit me -

Recordless Company -

Who baffle Key -

They have no Robes, nor Names -

No Almanacs – nor Climes -

But general Homes

Like Gnomes -

Their Coming, may be known

By Couriers within -

Their going – is not -

                   For they’re never gone

The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records

July 20, 2014

images

The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume One (1917-1932)

edited from Grayson Currin (http://pitchfork.com):

The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records: Vol. 1 (1917–1932) arrives like a family of nested matryoshka dolls. Sent by post, the 22-pound compendium comes in a wide and thick cardboard box, with the name and address of Paramount’s parent enterprise, the long-extinct Wisconsin Chair Company, branded on the side for the sake of authentic anachronism. Inside, two-inch walls of Styrofoam and a plastic sheath protect what Third Man and Revenant Records, the project’s operational partners, call The Cabinet of Wonder.

The hinged-and-clasped oak Cabinet bears Paramount’s iconic medallion on the outside, an eagle with its wings spread and head cocked, talons locked into the label’s name and positioned in front of a grooved record that suggests a morning’s rising sun.  The set smells of varnish and glue and furniture—sweet but a little sour, too.

Clasp popped, five distinct layers of wonder follow: a batch of six marbled brown LPs housed in an old-fashioned wooden binder; a velum envelope containing replications of ephemera from the earliest days of the recording industry; a hard-cover volume that tells the story of that troublesome start and its biggest stars; and a phone-book sized catalogue that does its best to detail nearly every performer included and, for the first time ever, name each of the thousands of records Paramount released in its two-decade lifespan.

The littlest doll, wedged into a specially cut hole in the green felt platform that lines the box, is a tarnished brass flash drive, playfully dubbed a Jobber-Luxe. The contraption is crafted to look like the reproducer-and-needle assembly of one of the Wisconsin Chair Company’s Vista Talking Machines, the reason they got into the nebulous and uncertain business of selling records, anyway.

It is the ultimate fulfillment of the set’s creative anachronism. The drive contains 800 songs culled from Paramount’s first decade, a fitful and suddenly fertile period that, in many ways, shaped the landscape for the rise of a recording industry anchored on jazz, rock ’n’ roll, and country music. Taken together, these recordings are no less than one blueprint of what has become American music.

Through scrupulous research, audacious design, and ostentatious packaging, this two-volume collection’s first installment does precisely what the best box sets intend to do—add proper deference and context to music that remains vital and significant. Retailing for $400, The Rise and Fall is no doubt expensive, especially considering that there’s a second and complementary volume forthcoming. But at once, it’s a history lesson, a dance hall, a bandstand, and a smoky blues parlor, all tucked neatly into one sturdy box. This is the Cabinet of Wonder, indeed. (more…)

Sacred Harp on JSP

July 7, 2014

457

SACRED HARP AND SHAPE NOTE SINGING 1922-1950 (4CD)  (JSP77175)

Dye’s Sacred Harp Singers, Denson Quartet, Fa Sol LA Singers, Roswell Sacred Harp Quartet, Allison’s Sacred Harp Singers, Elder Golden P Harris, Alabama Sacred Heart Singers, Pioneer Sacred Harp Singers, Bassett Quartet & more…

from redlick.com:

Here we have another stunning set from JSP, further broadening the range and scope of re-discovered musical gold from the first half of the twentieth century.

This time around, they again set off into more unchartered territory, with 81 tracks featuring the under-appreciated music of sacred harp. As usual, JSP co-opt knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides – on this,  the respected musicologist and archivist, Chris King, has made available his own private collection and JSP’s ‘go-to’ expert on country music, Pat Harrison, was on hand to compile and annotate the collection.

And I (for one) have been leaning heavily on the help and guidance in the notes provided to enhance my enjoyment and appreciation of this atmospheric and primitive but surprisingly accessible music. I can’t make any real claim to prior understanding of sacred harp and have been reliant on the ’I don’t know about art but I know what I like’ rule. And, boy, do I like this!

Sacred harp is a form of American music that sits somewhere between folk, old time country and gospel. As defining characteristics go, it is predominantly sung without any musical accompaniment, is protestant Christian music in content and context, and the vocal harmonies of the songs are invariably complex and multi-layered, providing a hauntingly ethereal quality.

And from start to finish, these tracks offer a spine-chilling musical experience. The notes outline which of the featured artists were most influential, popular or typical of the genre, but I have yet to de-lineate this or pick out favourites or differences – I am still in the early stages of hoovering up everything about this sensational music and indulging my latest enthusiasm.

Do yourself a favour, don’t miss this!

Mike Seeger

July 3, 2014

 

Mike Seeger- Mike Seeger

 

 

 

 

 

 

MIKE SEEGER
Mike Seeger
Vanguard 79150

www.vanguardrecords.com

reviewed by Gary von Tersch (from singout.org):


The timeless, home-grown music of the late mulch-instrumentalist and folklorist Mike Seeger nostalgically evokes a bygone age of old-time rural music, early acoustic blues and pre-World War II country strains – all “performed with the affection and dedication of a true scholar,” as a reviewer for the American Record Guide put it back in 1964 on the occasion of the original Vanguard release.

This album was recorded as the influential group he had recently co-founded, the seminal old-time revival trio New Lost City Ramblers, was adjusting to the sudden departure of fellow co-founder Tom Paley (first to Sweden then to England, where he remains active at 84). Seeger effortlessly breathes new life into songs from a wide swath of styles, all emblematic of the Southern folk tradition and including the riotously satirical “We Live A Long Long Time To Get Old,” a relatively recent composition by Knoxville, Tennessee, hillbilly musician Jimmy Murphy.

Nice-to-hear-agains also include a trio sourced to the Carter Family (Seeger’s clear-voiced recall of A.P.’s inviting “Hello Stranger” and his bluesy version of “It’ll Aggravate Your Soul” and Maybelle’s English folk song-oriented “Fair And Tender Ladies”) as well as the a cappella “Young McAfee On The Gallows” (a cautionary “goodnight” ballad by Jean Ritchie), a droning dulcimer-rhythmed “Waterbound,” the banjo-driven instrumental “Leather Breeches” and an optimistically melodic redo of Grandpa Jones’ hit “I’ve Been All Around This World.” It’s great to have this classic available once more. Informative liners by both John Crosby and and D.K. Wilgus.

Take a Look At That Baby

June 30, 2014

 

SOR_EdenandJohn

 

 

 

 

 

 

EDEN & JOHN’S
EAST RIVER STRING BAND

Take A Look At That Baby
www.eastriverstringband.com


reviewed by Gary von Tersch (from singout.org):

Helmed by intrepid guitarist, mandolinist, vocalist and dedicated record collector John Heneghan along with kazoo, resonator ukulele and fetching vocalist Eden Brower, the East River String Band’s delightful fourth CD release is, once again, introduced to us by some inventive cover art courtesy of the legendary cartoonist and Cheap Suit Serenader, Robert Crumb.

Crumb also adds his infectious fretwork to four of the fourteen traditional titles revived here, including entertaining renditions of both the James Cole String Band’s eternal question “Where You Been So Long?” and “Too Tight Rag,” originally committed to shellac in the early 1930s by a group of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky coal miners led by one Everett Eugene Hack. Other old-time influenced musicians accompanying the irrepressible Brower and Heneghan include harmonica whiz Ernesto Gomez (Brotherhood Of The Jug Band Blues), Pat Conte and Blind Uncle Otis (Massapequa Parkaneers), banjo and quills ace Dom Flemons (Carolina Chocolate Drops) and mouth-harpist Joe Bellulovich of the Otis Brothers.

Jackson Lynch of the Down Hill Strugglers also adds fiddle accents to a rousingly good-timey recall of Bo Carter’s “Baby How Can It Be.” Heneghan and company particularly shine on their blues numbers – favorites are Charley Patton’s “Pony Blues,” Tommy Johnson’s “Big Road Blues” and Skip James’ “I’m So Glad” – as well as on all-out shenanigans like “Old Jaw Bone,” “Diamond Joe” and “Got A Letter From My Darling.” It recalls the wildly energetic and appealingly eclectic music created by the Alan Wilson-led Canned Heat outfit in the 1960s, who were all record collectors as well.

“The Music of Coal”

June 24, 2014

mg71

Music Of Coal: Mining Songs From The Appalachian Coalfields (Lonesome Records & Publishing CD 071)

Hardcover Digibook (70 pages) and 2-CD Set.Incredible collection of memorabilia, photos, notes and song lyrics plus 48 haunting recordings (145:32 Min.)

from http://bluegrasstoday.com:

The work of coal miners has long been commemorated in song, disasters have led to contemporaneous ballad type songs and personal acquaintance with victims of the industry has led to intense, heart-rending insights into the side-effects of working below ground.

Many songs have been found during song-catcher expeditions – some of those recording are found here, others have been written by those with a social conscience as a form of protest at times of strife. As well as embracing the social ramifications, political, historic and economic aspects of life in coal mining communities.

The collection is sub-titled Mining Songs From The Appalachian Coalfields and, in fact, the music chosen is pared down to music from southern Appalachia and to that by local talent. There is a mixture of styles – big band, jazz, old-time (in its various sub-sets, including string band), traditional country, bluegrass, folk, blues, boogie-woogie and choral.

The recordings themselves span a century, beginning with the opening song on the first disc – Down In A Coal Mine an excerpt from The Edison Concert Band and made in 1908. Other recordings from the early part of the last century include Mining Camp Blues by Trixie Smith (1925); He’s Only A Miner Killed In The Ground -Ted Chestnut (1928); Coal Miner’s Blues – The Carter Family (1938) and Sprinkle Coal Dust On My Grave – Orville Jenks (1940), sung to the same melody as Sunny Side Of The Mountain..

As concept albums go, this collection takes its place among the finest. Presented in a book format measuring approximately 10 inches by 6 inches, it contains two CDs with a total of 48 tracks. The book itself has an Introduction, written by producer Jack Wright, a Sanctus contributed by Archie Green, the doyen of coal mining music scholarship with his book Only A Miner, and to whom the anthology is dedicated, and Foreword by Jon Lohman of the Virginia Folklife Program. Additionally, it comprises a brief essay giving some background to the song and/or the singer, innumerable black and white photographs, most courtesy of Helen Lewis and lyrics.

Also, the book remembers that mining wasn’t an exclusively male preserve with a few brief references to the experiences of female mine workers. Of course, women were significant in holding their, often large, families together, supporting their men folk domestically as well as often championing their causes in their invariably shared tumultuous lives.

Music Of Coal is a very valuable documentation from the perspective of the workers in a treacherous industry that is nevertheless so necessary as it provides a fundamental need in all our lives. It does well to remind us of the many sacrifices that have blighted lives and the landscape in earlier times of Appalachian coal mining.

Himself

June 18, 2014
 index
from http://longgonesound.com:
 
Dennis McGee: Himself  (Valcour Records) 
Review For ARSC Journal (Journal of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections) by Chris King
 

Few people can be justifiably regarded as both an originator of a particular style of music and also as a conveyor of an older style of folk music in its own right.  Fewer still are those who were aurally documented in the 1920s & 1930s and in the 1970s & 1980s who showed little loss of skill or recollection of repertoire.   One such artist was the unique Cajun, Dennis McGee.

Not only did McGee record from 1929 to 1934 with such artists as Amédé Ardoin, Sady Courville, Wade Fruge, and Angelas Le Jeunne, but he also later recorded two “studio” albums in 1972 and 1977 with Sady Courville for Morning Star and Swallow, respectively.   Every recording mentioned above was done either with a second fiddler and with McGee providing the vocals, or in the role of the accompanying fiddler behind an accordion player and vocalist.

This new CD, Dennis McGee – Himself, presents McGee in the role of solo fiddler, playing mostly previously unheard instrumentals without the company of a second fiddler or an accordion player. It is a revelation on par with “junking” a stack of unknown & unissued test recordings by one of the most majestic and unique fiddlers ever to draw a bow.

Since McGee was one of the earliest Cajun artists to record commercially, most musicians, collectors, and scholars regard him, along with the black accordion player, Amédé Ardoin, as the source of most traditional Cajun tunes and the techniques developed to play them; the true vine, as it were.  What has been lacking, up until the release of this material recorded in 1975 by Gérard Dôle, were recordings of McGee performing unaccompanied and, perhaps more importantly, performing the more archaic and obscure types of Cajun fiddle tunes that were popular in the 19th century.

This is essential since mazurkas, polkas, gallopades, varsoviannas,  and cotillions held a strong place in the early Cajun fiddle and dance repertoire but became less popular with the introduction of the diatonic accordion.   One of the most revealing aspects of this collection, though not explicitly stated, is that traditional Cajun fiddle music is defined more by its repertoire than by its style. (more…)

Lonesome Whistle

June 16, 2014

d02fb213f04f4768b1622967277e523c

Lonesome Whistle – An Anthology Of American Railroad Song (4 CD Proper Box Set)

from http://www.propermusic.com:

This 100 track collection celebrates the impact the railroad had on USA’s population.  The constant movement of people away and towards better or worse situations and the trains that got them there are a large part of the lyrical consciousness of all American Folk music.   In this extensive Proper Records collection we have a cross-section of genres that perfectly illustrate the impact the railways had on the movement, sound, and consciousness of musicians from all strands of the Folk music of the USA.
Before super highways and relatively cheap internal air travel, during the latter part of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th, railways – or railroads, as they say in America – were the throbbing arteries for freight and public transport across the vastness of the USA. Poor folk either watched the monsters pass them by, hammered the tracks, hopped a freebie in a cattle truck or sat in the cheap seats.

Rich folk enjoyed pampered service in swanky saloons. The toffs are not renowned for their railroad reminiscences. Poor blacks and whites, principally of the southern states, wrote and recorded about it aplenty. This 4-CD box set celebrates 100 of the most pertinent and poignant examples, from early blues and country recordings of the 1920s to rock ‘n’ roll in the 50s.

You don’t need to be a train-spotter to climb aboard this anthology; just an open ear for the noble art of storytelling, thematically linked out of different social stations and gradually evolving along the line from acoustic to electric performance. Many legendary artists are featured together with an equal number of ‘never heard of them before but now note their names’ reasons to enjoy the bittersweet romance of railroads.

Here are tales of tragedies, opportunities and loves lost or found, escapes and escapades, of famous railroad companies and forgotten locals. The better known troubadours and raconteurs include Blind Lemon Jefferson, Furry Lewis, Jimmie Rogers (The Singing Brakeman), Mississippi John Hurt, The Carter Family, Charley Patton, Bukka White, Blind Willie McTell, Walter Davis, Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Minnie, The Delmore Brothers, Meade Lux Lewis, The Monroe Brothers, Little Brother Montgomery, Robert Johnson, Sleepy John Estes, Leadbelly, Arthur Crudup, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Sonny Boy Williamson, T-Bone Walker, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Johnny Burnette’s Rock ’n’ Roll Trio.

Various Artists compilations often come across as a jumble of odds ’n’ sods if they are not coherently compiled and annotated. This one, enclosing an informative 24-page booklet, is just the ticket

Scottdale String Band

June 10, 2014

 

from http://www.arhoolie.com and “Pickin’ on Peachtree: A History of Country Music in Atlanta,” Georgia by Wayne Daniel:

Scottdale String Band – “Old Folks Better Go to Bed” (Arhoolie CD 7054)

In the first golden age of country music, from the mid-1920s until the early ’30s, the Scottdale String Band held one of the leading names in OKeh Records’ catalog of Old Time Tunes. The band took its name from the cotton mill village of Scottdale, located between Decatur and Clarkston in DeKalb County, Georgia. String bands without fiddles, groups of mandolins, banjos, and guitars, in varying combinations, were quite well represented on records in those years. But the Scottdale String Band’s extensive and diverse legacy of sparkling performances ranging from ragtime tunes and popular songs to waltzes, breakdowns, and blues, sets them apart from their contemporaries.

12

1. Chinese Breakdown
2. Carbolic Rag
3. Carolina Glide
4. Stone Mountain Wobble
5. Southern Blues
6. Old Folks Better Go to Bed
7. My Own Iona
8. Hiawatha Breakdown
9. Scottdale Stomp
10. Silver Bell
11. In the Shade of the Parasol
12. Green Mountain Polka
13. Kohala March
14. The Moonshiners’ Waltz
15. Coughdrop Blues
16. Scottdale Highballers
17. Sitting on Top of the World
18. Down Yonder
19. Japanese Breakdown

“West Indies: An Island Carnival”

June 5, 2014

images

West Indies: An Island Carnival (Nonesuch 972091-2), recorded 1969-71

Reviewed by  Tracey Hughes (“Old Time Music of the Americas”):

As Daniel Sheehy writes in the notes to this CD, “In Port of Spain, Trinidad,… you can sit in a little shop owned by a Chinese eating East Indian food served by a man whose mother’s father was African, mother’s mother Indian,  father’s father Irish, and father’s mother Lebanese… The same musician…may happily whistle the latest calypso hit while on his way to a religious feast where he will sing songs in Yoruba to [African deity] Shango, after having played jigs and reels in a dance band the night before.”

The many musical influences in this collection merge seamlessly to provide a joyous introduction to traditional Caribbean music that still stands up as the best, 30 years since its initial release.  Some highlights:

From Dominica, the Jing Ping Band pounds out a polyrhythmic merengue on button accordion, tambourine, guiro (scraper), and boom boom (bamboo-cane “tuba”).  This multi-layered style of dance tune, common all over the Caribbean, is traditionally delivered without guitar or string accompaniment of any kind, drawing your ear into the complex interplay between the three rhythm instruments and the irregular bass notes of the accordion.

“Masouc” (mazurka)  is a lovely example of a Caribbean fiddle tune, played by fiddler Julius Alfred on a Saturday evening with his band in the village of Soufriere, St. Lucia. The string band consists of fiddle, guitar, cuatro (4-stringed guitar), and shak shak (metal cylinder full of pebbles).  All over the Lesser Antilles string bands play tunes originally learned at plantation owners’ festivities for quadrilles, polkas, and waltzes.

The Spiritual Baptists, or Shouters, a Trinidadian sect, use no conventional instruments, “but the congregation clap their hands, stamp their feet, strike benches and chairs and make rhythmical sounds with their voices.'”  In their beautiful hymn, “Jesus Going to Prepare a Mansion for Me,” congregants gradually leave singing behind and break into pure hocketing and other improvised spontaneous rhythmic vocal effects in a dense outpouring of communal exhuberance.

“Mr. Walker” is played by a cocoa-lute duo from Grenada.  The cocoa-lute is a musical bow, played with one end held in the mouth, and a plucked a single string.  “Good Morning, Mr. Walker” was a huge calypso hit for the legendary Trinidadian calypsonian Mighty Sparrow, and later popularized by Bahamanian guitarist Joseph Spence.  Here, played on a single-stringed African instrument, it has been reclaimed by folk tradition, and played  with enough syncopation and drive to propel a hall full of dancers.

Sheehy: “For over half a millennium, the region has been host to a continuous flow of human migration that has left in its wake a kaleidoscope of cultural hybrids,”  and some of the most infectious music you will ever hear.  This anthology, still in print, is a highly recommended introduction.

How Can I Keep From Singing?

May 28, 2014

2020

How Can I Keep From Singing: Early American Religious Music and Song, Classic Recordings From the 1920s and 1930s: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (Yazoo 2020 and 2021)

review by Art Menius (from http://artmenius.com):

In recent years a gospel or Christian music industry has emerged full blown with awards, charts, and modern marketing techniques applied to a field where every musical style can be employed for the Lord. Nonetheless, Christian music goes back for centuries with recordings from the earliest days of the phonograph. The emergence of blues, hillbilly, and ethnic music recordings after 1920 led to a flood of such recordings. How Can I Keep From Singing, a new pair of CD’s from Shanachie’s Yazoo imprint, collects and celebrates the riches of gospel music waxed during the 1920’s and 1930’s, and a treasure chest it is.

Deliciously diverse, running the full range of Christian American religious recordings for two decades during which the radio, jukeboxes, and 78 rpm records changed the shape of mass media. Most delightfully, both volumes of How Can I Keep From Singing mix equitably tracks from both white and black sacred traditions and recordings from exclusively gospel artists, including church choirs and shape note groups, and from those who performed Christian music along with hillbilly or blues. We can enjoy Uncle Dave Macon, Jaybird Coleman, Kid Smith and Norman Woodlief, Elder Golden Harris, and the Daniels-Deason Sacred Harp Singers as contemporaries. Thus these two discs provide the most panoramic overview of sacred recordings from between the World Wars yet available.

These tracks capture a time before bluegrass gospel, southern gospel, and the African-American quartets and mass choirs, much less contemporary Christian music, had emerged to dominate the field. To hear sacred harp songs as commercial releases is revelatory. Captured here are not only the roots of today’s far less diverse gospel sounds, but of much post-World War II American music as well. In singing “My Living Brother,” Ed McConnell and Family, for example, demonstrate where Woody Guthrie found the melody for “This Land Is Your Land” “Oh Death,” rendered here by the black Pace Jubilee Singers, became a Ralph Stanley classic, while the Stanley Brothers and many other bluegrass outfits have performed “Lonely Tomb,” heard here by the still active Wade Mainer.

These extraordinary recordings and those who purchase the CD’s deserve much more in the way of documentary information and interpretation. Each artist or ensemble gets only one or two sentences in the liner notes. We don’t even learn when or where or for whom these intriguing songs were recorded. In a horrible waste of space, both CD jackets contain the same scanty liner notes!

That aside, How Can I Keep From Singing are two crucial discs filled with exceptional and heart-felt music that still speaks to listeners in the 1990s. This is a rare music, sometimes from unique and nearly unique 78s, thankfully resurrected for us.

A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings

May 23, 2014

g00731

 A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings (Rounder)

reviewed by Ed Cray (from http://www.acousticmusic.com}:

Here are 30 field recordings of ballads, songs, fiddle and banjo tunes, hymns, and work songs culled from the Library of Congress’ Archive of Folk Culture by banjoist-folklorist Stephen Wade. Together they comprise a marvelous survey of American folk music.

These songs truly are old friends; some I’ve known since the late 1940s, when they first appeared on 78s released by the Library of Congress. E.C. Ball and Vera Hall, Texas Gladden and Wade Warde, Jimmie Strothers and Luther Strong, and Sonny Terry and Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, among others, bring back vivid memories of when I first heard the songs.

Wade’s CD reminds us of the gift these folks have given us, thanks to collectors who scoured the countryside between 1934 and 1946 like John Lomax, his son Alan, Herbert Halpert, George Korson and a dozen others. Their aluminum disc recordings cut on a 350-pound Presto machine inspired the first semi-pro folk singers Woody Guthrie, Huddie Ledbedder and Pete Seeger (and then, of course, the Seeger family, including mother Ruth, Pete’s half-brother Mike, and sister his Peggy). Through them, and through the ceaseless promotion of Alan Lomax especially, these recordings indirectly inspired the urban folk music revival.

On this CD, listen to Texas Gladden of Salem, Virginia (who knew some 300 songs and ballads) sing her version of The Unfortunate Rake and understand instantly where Hally Wood, and later Joan Baez, found voice.

Listen to Jimmie Strothers singing The Blood-Strained Banders, and know the debt Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind indirectly owes that convicted axe murderer.

Listen to fiddler W.H. Stepp rip his way through Bonaparte’s Retreat, borrowed note for note by Aaron Copland for the Hoedown in his ballet score Rodeo. As Wade’s liner notes remind us, “whenever Copland’s hoedown is heard — and forty concert violins and a xylophone swell in unison — a Kentucky mountain fiddler named W.H. Stepp continues to play for millions.”

Or listen to domestic worker Vera Hall, of Sumpter County, Alabama, sing Another Man Done Gone and know how simple great singing can be. Or sigh with the crystalline purity of the voice of the Indian schoolgirl, credited only as “Margaret,” singing the ineffably beautiful Creek Lullaby.

Here, too, is federal circuit court judge Learned Hand, as brilliant and well- educated a man as ever sat on the bench (his long correspondence with Supreme Court Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter is an exchange of coruscating wit and deep reflection on the law, society, and philosophy). Hand of Harvard College sings the Civil War ballad Iron Merrimac in a clear, measured voice — incidentally establishing that “the folk” are not all unlettered mountain folk.

Do not be frightened off by the label “field recording” or assume these are scratchy recordings of raw singers croaking “this here song I learned from my mother back in Ought Six.” Good reader, you do not often encounter such musical brilliance and sheer pleasure as Wade has culled for you. The recorded sound, though not high fidelity, is adequate and sometimes surprisingly good.

If there is any criticism of this CD, it is to ask why the knowledgeable Wade has selected for this “treasury” only material previously released by the Library of Congress. There are, literally, thousands of unreleased recordings in the archive deserving publication. Some of the cuts here, however, have appeared three and four times before in recordings and books. Most, I believe, are still available.

Wade’s incisive, informative liner notes are drawn from his forthcoming book “American Folk Music: A Personal Treasury from the Library of Congress.” I do not know what that explains: are the cuts here his favorites or are they the pieces that most influenced him (Wade is, after all, a performer as well as scholar)? Are they the only ones for which he had clearance? No explanation is given.

Still, the CD more than lives up to its title. This is a treasury — a collection of gems. It is also a marvelous introduction to the dominant strains of American folk music — Anglo-Irish and Southern black.

Ballads, Banjo Tunes, and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina

May 19, 2014

518uyrerubL

Bascom Lamar Lunsford: Ballads, Banjo Tunes &
Sacred Songs of
Western North Carolina

(Smithsonian Folkways CD)

reviewed by Daniel Jolley (www.rambles.net):

This is much, much more than a music CD; this is history, tradition and an echo of life as it once was. Having been born and raised in the North Carolina foothills, this music is especially significant to me.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, music was a way of life in the North Carolina mountains; thanks to Bascom Lamar Lunsford, that old way of life and culture is not completely lost to us in this modern age. Lunsford had many professions during his long life, but the music he grew up with was his passion.

He recorded many songs that would almost certainly have been completely lost to us; not only that, he described each song, talked about where he heard it, who played it, etc. He was called “the Minstrel of the Appalachians” because he collected songs from all over western North Carolina and preserved them. He played the fiddle, banjo (in two distinctive styles) and mandoline (sort of like a mandolin), and he sang, recording hundreds of the living tunes of his friends, neighbors and neighborly strangers over the years — all sorts of songs, including ballads, folk songs, gospel songs, fiddle tunes and banjo tunes. He also wrote a few songs of his own, including the classic “Old Mountain Dew.”

No American contributed more material to the Archive of Folk Song than Lunsford, and all but five of the recordings on this album come from his “memory collection” recordings made at the Library of Congress in 1949 (the “memory collection” actually consists of no less than 318 songs); the other five were recorded for Brunswick Records in 1928.

Bascom Lamar Lunsford (from liner notes):

1234

“American Folk and Country Festival”

May 13, 2014

bcd16849a

American Folk & Country Festival (Bear Family BCD16849):  2-CD set with 76 page hardcover book

from http://www.ccmusic.com:

Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau began organizing their American Blues and Jazz Festivals in 1962, bringing to Europe American blues and jazz players for a series of successful tours, and in the early spring of 1966 Lippmann and Rau switched gears a bit and brought over a package of the New Lost City Ramblers, the Stanley Brothers & the Clinch Mountain Band, Cyp Landreneau’s Cajun Band, Cousin Emmy, and Roscoe Holcomb, billing it as the American Folk and Country Music Festival.

Together, they offer a fascinating glimpse of early American music played with heart and soul. All the artists were still in peak form and gave European audiences their first taste of this side of American traditional music.

Although it was somewhat less fiscally viable than the blues and jazz fests, it was certainly a varied and rewarding show, and thankfully several of the stops were recorded, leading to this wonderful two-disc set featuring generous selections from all of the participating artists.

Among the high points are a haunting, high lonesome version by Roscoe Holcomb of “East Virginia Blues,” the New Lost City Ramblers’ take on “Coo Coo Bird” (based, obviously, on Clarence Ashley’s famous arrangement of the song), Cyp Landreneau’s bayou meets gypsy sound on “La Danse du Lac Charles,” the harmonica and banjo playing of Cousin Emmy, and the sleek yet rustic sound of the Stanley Brothers on “Riding on That Midnight Train,” which, while it is definitely bluegrass in approach, still has an old-timey string band feel to it. Lovingly assembled like all of the Bear Family’s remarkable box sets, and generously annotated, American Folk and Country Music Festival is both a valuable historical document and a fun, even revelatory, listen.

The World Is Shaking

May 3, 2014

The World Is Shaking Cubanismo From The Congo, 1954-55

“The World Is Shaking:
Cubanismo From The Congo, 1954-55″ (HJRCD40)

edited from HONEST JON’S RECORDS (http://www.honestjons.com):

This highly recommended collection of commercial 78 RPM recordings could be subtitled instead “early acoustic guitar bands from The Congo.”  Although the bands were supposedly inspired by Cuban records, the music here is wholly African.  Five of the cuts also include a fiddle, and at least three include likembe (thumb piano).

The recordings display a euphoric explosion of creativity just a few years before The Congo’s independence from France.  The gorgeous vocal harmonies and consistent guitar virtuousity  uncover the dizzy beginnings of the golden age of African music — zinging with the social and political ferment of the independence movement and anti-colonianalism, after the Second World War — and the daredevil origins of Congolese rumba, the entire continent’s most popular music in the sixties and seventies.

The astonishing inventions of Europe and America  played an important role in the music’s development. Echoes of music exported in the slave trade came home on radios and records. Congolese musicians who strayed from the traditional realm with its plethora of lutes and likembes (thumb pianos) — all the various indigenous instruments — began to master imported guitars and horns by mimicking what they heard.

The jazz of Louis Armstrong and the ballads of European torch singers like Tino Rossi captured the imagination of the rapidly expanding working class — and then the familiar-sounding music of Latin America, in the form of the shiny shellac of HMV’s GV series of 78s (G for the English Gramophone Company; V for Victor in the US). Local musicians swapped the Spanish of the originals for Congolese languages like Lingala or Kikongo.

Listen to likembe player Boniface Koufidilia as he makes the transition from traditional to modern in the first few seconds of Bino, which then hits you with a vamping violin whilst he muses about death. Andre Denis and Albert Bongu both echo the the sounds of palm-wine guitar brought to the Belgian Congo by the coastmen. The sweet vocal harmonies of Vincent Kuli’s track were learned perhaps in a mission church. Rene Mbu’s nimble, likembe-like guitar plucking shines on Boma Limbala. Is Laurent Lomande using a banjo as a backdrop to Elisa? Aren’t those kazoos, buzzing along on Jean Mpia’s Tika?

It’s as if the musicians, fired up by the times in their zeal for experimental self-expression, tossed into a bottle some new elements and some old, some from near and some far, and then shook it hard, to see what would happen.

“Yaka Ko Tala” by Vincent Kuli, from “The World Is Shaking”:

Nothing Seems Better To Me

April 26, 2014

 

Various Artists - The Warner Collection, Vol. II: Nothing Seems Better To Me: The Music of Frank Proffitt and North Carolina

 from http://www.acousticmusic.com:

The Warner Collection, Vol. II
Nothing Seems Better To Me:
The Music of Frank Proffitt
and North Carolina

Reviewed by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

While less known than the Lomaxes, Frank and Anne Warner made a number of recordings over a forty-year period of time and donated them to the Library of Congress in 1972. Now, thanks to Appleseed, these recordings have been made easily available for scholars, lovers of old-time music, and the curious.

The Warner Collection, Vol. II concentrates on the music of singer, guitarist, and banjo player Frank Proffitt. His recordings represent almost half of the selections here. Proffitt had a deep love for music and played hundreds of songs for the Warners, with whom he developed a close friendship (they would save 250 of Proffitt’s letters). Unfortunately, the Depression continued to have an impact on the Appalachians, even as late as 1951, forcing him to sell his guitar and give up music for a number of years. Today, Proffitt’s name is primarily associated with the famous murder ballad, Tom Dooley.

There are two versions of Tom Dooley” on The Warner Collection, Vol. II. The first is from 1940 and lasts only 44 seconds. “My earlyest (sic) memory was of waking up on a wintry morning,” Frank Proffitt wrote, “and hearing my father picking the Tom Dooly (sic) song in a slow mournful way.” Proffitt would teach the song to Alan Lomax who published it in Folk Song U.S.A.

In 1959, the Kingston Trio recorded the song and it became an international hit. Their version, however, only partially resembled the original. “I got a television set for the kids,” Proffitt wrote. “One night I was a-setting looking at some foolishness when three fellers stepped out with guitar and banjer (sic) and went to singing Tom Dooly (sic) and they clowned and hipswinged (sic). I began to feel sorty sick, like I’d lost a love one.” Proffitt recorded the second longer version of Tom Dooley in 1959, fully capturing the pathos of the ballad.

There are at least 15 other recordings by Proffitt on The Warner Collection, Vol. II that one shouldn’t miss. The plaintive Goin’ ‘Cross the Mountain is accompanied by spare banjo and a lonesome vocal, while Hangman,” sung without accompaniment, is even more lonesome. While old-time singing sometimes strikes the uninitiated as too high and untrained, Proffitt’s vocals are relaxed, full-bodied, and immediately accessible. There are also songs that represent social difficulties and domestic bliss. W P and A (Works Projects Administration) is a Depression-era song about the role of government programs in the Appalachian region, while Trifling Woman bemoans a woman that “won’t bake my biscuits.”

While Proffitt is the star here, he is joined by a number of talented singers including Lee Monroe Presnell, Linzy Hicks, Eleazar Tillett, Buna Vista Hicks, and Frank Proffitt, Jr. The quality of the recording, as with the previous volume, is excellent. Proffitt’s music would eventually lead to opportunities that would improve his financial security (although it would take an extended legal battle to gain royalties from Tom Dooley). He recorded for Folkways and Folk-Legacy, played at Newport, and even received a cover article in Sing Out! The Warner Collection, Vol. II is a perfect way to introduce the wonderful music of Frank Proffitt and North Carolina to a new generation.

Jackson Stomp

April 17, 2014

 

image

from http://www.redlick.com:

JACKSON STOMP – THE CHARLIE McCOY STORY: Nehi Records (NEH02)

A new release on a new label but, fear not, the guys behind Nehi are the same as used to release all those super blues CDs on Catfish Records. That fact alone provides comfort that you are in the hands of blues enthusiasts, ready, willing and able to find and release the rare and obscure records that we all crave.

This CD is one of three releases now becoming available to celebrate the official launch of the label. And, more good news, the plan is to release more early in the new year as part of an ongoing and regular release schedule. If the subsequent releases are as good as the three CDs that have kicked-off the programme, then we sure are going to have a series worth collecting. Not only are they well chosen and compiled, the sound quality is as good as your going to get and the notes are exhaustive and excellent. And, I haven’t even got to the very attractive price yet!

On this CD, the genius of Charlie McCoy is celebrated across 26 tracks from the 1920s to the early 1940s, either with Charlie as the featured artist (often under a pseudonym) or demonstrating his flexibility and versatility backing a range of other artists and friends on guitar or mandolin.

And as well as his renowned musical abilities, we should also add mobility as, having established his reputation in Mississippi in the 1920s on tracks by the likes of Tommy Johnson, Ishmon Bracey, Bo Carter and Will Weldon (some of which are included here), he was soon lured to Chicago in the early 1930s to work on sessions for the likes of Sonny Boy (John Lee) Williamson, Johnny Temple, Curtis Jones and in bands with brother Joe McCoy, such as the Harlem Hamfats and Memphis Minnie (Joe’s then wife).

Unfortunately, into the 1940s Charlie’s luck changed as he was called up by Uncle Sam to support the war effort and, by the time this stint was over, his impetus and momentum had gone.

Nonetheless we are left with a fantastic musical legacy that this CD presents and celebrates magnificently.

I’m already licking my chops in anticipation of the next lot of releases from Nehi. They can’t all be this good, can they?

“Prayers from Hell”

April 13, 2014

0267

Prayers From Hell: White Gospel & Sinners Blues 1927-1940 (Trikont CD)

reviewed by Frank Weston (www.mustrad.org.uk):

Prayers From Hell?  One might be tempted to sing “Too Late Brother, Too Late” – perhaps Rejoicing and Regretting From Earth might be more appropriate as a subtitle.  Whichever way you look at it this mixture of songs looking forward to the life hereafter or lamenting the consequencies of wrong doing during this life make up an excellent seventy three minutes listening.

Whoever is responsible, these 1932 recordings are good examples of the string band music of the era.  The two tracks from the Monroe Brothers Bill and Charlie are from 1937 and hearing them again I am reminded just how great they were as a team.  True there were brother duets using guitar and mandolin back-up that preceded them but none had the same dynamism created by this pair.

Charlie’s solid foundation bass runs on the guitar and Bill’s soar-away mandolin make for great listening.  Bill’s long career as the recognised ‘Father of Bluegrass’ following the break-up with his brother has tended to overshadow these excellent earlier recordings, and of course Charlie’s own later career.

This whole album is chock-full of excellent material from the vocal duets of the Dixon Brothers with guitar and slide guitar, Dorsey’s duets with his wife Beatrice backed by his own uniquely rich sounding fingerpicked guitar, the wonderful bounce of the Carlisle Brothers’ tenor and steel guitars to the full sound of Byron Parker and His Mountaineers.

This latter group, by the way, includes Snuffy Jenkins who along with his brother was one of the earliest players of the three finger banjo style later taken up by Earl Scruggs and which was to become such an important ingredient in Bill Monroe’s band and without which bluegrass may have remained under the general umbrella of country music and not been given its own pigeonhole.

Two artists new to me here are the husband and wife team Sherman and Edith Collins, they made one single session for Decca in March 1938 and no biographical information has so far been uncovered.  This is a vocal duet accompanied by their own two guitars, one of which seems to be capoed up reasonably high.

Their first offering is a version of the song first recorded by Bill and Charlie Monroe in 1936 and two days earlier than them at the same recording session by Wade Mainer and Zeke Morns, although it was the Monroe’s version which was issued.  The second offering by the Collins duet is one that was later taken and adapted by Woody Guthrie who changed the content of the song quite dramatically but only changed one word in the title from can’t to don’t.  Edith’s voice has that slightly immature for want of a better word mountain sound with a slight husky catch in it which I find appealing.  I think she would have sounded equally at home singing with Hartman’s Heartbreakers but that’s another ball game.

For those of you who don’t know, Trikont is a German label but notes are in German and English in the informative booklet.Just in case it isn’t clear from the above ramblings, I find this a fascinating and enjoyable album – highly recommended.

Goodbye Babylon

August 21, 2013

from http://pitchfork.com:

As near as you will ever get, you are inside the music

Unlike other anthologies of so-called “old-time” music– Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music readily comes to mind as a valid choice of comparison– Babylon strikes a deified note of distinction based upon its unique organization and central theme. Whereas other collections of folk and gospel music may call upon the spirit to simply shine down upon the globe, Goodbye dually keeps one eye at all times on the music and the other toward the sky, never once forgetting that there’s both reason beyond reason and sight beyond sight.

Organized not by the Elements of the destitute race– as is Harry Smith’s previously mentioned collection– but into the multivariant portions of a typical sermon, the corpus of the collection lends itself to the more introspective and contemplative thoughts of the typical listener: An introduction encompassing all themes, an illustration of God’s justice in the Johnson Family Singers’ “Deliverance Will Come”, the separation of the wheat from the tares in Rev. Sister Mary Nelson’s New Testament-tinged glimpse of the Lord’s Salvation, “Judgment”, and a final plea to all those who still remain without true sight in the oddly ironic final disc, Goodbye, Babylon.

Add to this the unexpectedly non-preachy sixth disc of early 20th-Century gospel sermons– with such imaginatively titled works as “Black Diamond Express to Hell (Pt. I & II)” by the Rev. A.W. Nix and “Death Might Be Your Santa Claus” by the progenitor of the broadcast sermon, Rev. J.M. Gates– and you have a masterpiece so intimately connected to the dogged human spirit that it’s difficult to imagine a time when such a thread was not woven between Man and his God.

Not only inside it, you are it; your body is no longer your shape and substance, it is the shape and substance of the music.

More astounding than the sheer volume of songs collected within the Babylon box is the breadth of performers and performances that are covered and condensed into such a strongly supported theme. Culled from the catalogue of such former record company giants as Victor, Okeh, Vocalion and more, the disc brazenly tramples outdated notions of segregated “Race Music” (mainly blues and gospel) and “Old Familiar Tunes” (country, white gospel, and bluegrass) that dominated the commerce of music production at the time.

So successful is the set in this amalgamation that it’s often difficult to imagine a time when former-“Mole in the Ground” performer Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s “Dry Bones” could not be found a stone’s throw distance from Skip James’ “Jesus Is a Mighty Good Leader” or Jimpson’s spiritual-like prison round of “No More, My Lord”.

Further evidence of implied ethnic harmony can be heard in the gentle juxtaposition of the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet’s impressive and oft-covered “Rock My Soul” sliding over the back of an imagined glissando into the markedly less-pigmented “There’s a Light Lit Up in Galilee” by Ernest V. Stoneman’s Dixie Mountaineers. A similar effect can also be heard between the laid-back “Christ Arose” by the Sheffield Quartet, and one of the true musical Rosetta Stones of the collection, the blues and gospel-inspired Thomas A. Dorsey achievement “If You See My Saviour”, a piano-driven number that doesn’t pave the road for the later R&B; tinged classics of artists such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Little Richard, but most assuredly clears a path.

Everything that is is holy.

A valid criticism of Goodbye, Babylon lies ultimately in its prodigious claim of comprehensive and empiric inclusion of all the music that may fall under such a description as “sacred.” To this claim, one might broach the subject of hypothesizing such foreign conceits as “other religions” to the stalwart and preoccupied Christian, or perhaps simply focus upon the idea that there is more to the American Christian mindset than what may be found south of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi. Insofar as the anthology does collect moments of the inspired Southern liturgical oratory, though, Dust-To-Digital has the rather novel boon of a true masterwork of sacred music on its hands.

Ultimately, to deny that this collection of doleful musings and backwood hollers is anything less than heavenly is to deny whatever higher being in which one may or may not believe. Add to this the fact that the label has created one of possibly five beautiful and lasting works of the digital media as an artifact, and you have a justifiably immortal assortment of both the divine and human condition– a call that might finally answer the lingering prompt, “Sing unto the Lord, all the earth; shew forth from day to day His salvation” (I Chronicles 16:23).

Turn Me Loose

August 12, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turn Me Loose: Outsiders of Old Time Music, edited by Frank Fairfield  (Tompkins Square CD)

edited review by Mike Yates (www.mustrad.org.uk):

Subtitled “Commercial recordings of Anglo-European-American vernacular music that challenge the stereotypes”, this is a second selection of 78rpm recordings mainly from the collection of American musician Frank Fairfield, and is a really fascinating collection of little-known and seldom-heard musical gems.

Let’s begin with the opening track, a version of the well-known fiddle tune Waggoner, played by Bob Skiles Four Old Timers, a family band from Texas.  The band comprises Bob Skiles on fiddle, his mother on piano, and his two sons playing banjo and … tuba.  And I guess that the tuba is the reason for this tracks appearance here.  Yes, it is unusual to hear a brass instrument playing in a so-called string band, but let’s not forget that there was once a tradition of German “oom-pah” bands in Texas, so perhaps the tuba is not that odd after all.

And what about that piano?  The Tweedy Brother’s version of Chicken Reel is played on fiddle and piano, the latter being described in the notes as “eccentric”.  Well, the pianist does get a little over-involved in the middle of the recording, but then so did many other old-time piano players, such as Al Hopkins (of The Hillbillies), Hobart Smith and Haywood Blevins.  Clarice Shelor, who played the piano on her family band recordings, was perhaps more reserved, but, at the end of the day, the piano was probably more common in old-time music than we like to suppose. (more…)

Early Harmonica Recordings from the 1920s & 1930s

August 2, 2013

TRI_226

Black & White Hillbilly Music – Early Harmonica Recordings from the 1920s & 1930s (Trikont CD)

from http://www.allmusic.com:

This is all pure country music, before there really was such a thing. This is the folk music of England, Ireland, and Scotland wrapped up in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and in the Appalachian plains, and was transformed into something so perversely American it was a freak show to the rest of the country when it finally was released on recordings.

These recordings by the Crook Brothers, DeFord Bailey (the first black instrumentalist on the Grand Old Opry stage), the Jackson County Barn Owls, the Riverside Ramblers, Karl & Harty, the Pickard Family, Dr. Humphrey Bate & the Possum Hunters, Lonnie Glosson, and others were the sounds of people telling stories to one another in the confines of their communities, playing the old songs as if they had a secret code not decipherable outside the holler.

Music was played by clans for other clans; many of them identifying their “turf” and placing the name “Ramblers” after it (there are four such acts on this disc). This is primarily string band music, unique because of the prominence of the harmonica in the ensembles themselves. Fiddle solos were replaced or at least augmented by harmonica.

As an album, it doesn’t have the power or the focus that other Trikont compilations have. It feels shoddily snapped together to meet a production deadline, with this theme as its only unifier. That said, it’s of more than casual interest because of the material, which is very fine, and most of it is so obscure that it is seldom (if ever) referenced.

Of particular note is the early swing flavor of the Nelstone’s Hawaiians, formed during the brief national craze for Hawaiian guitar music. It seems there was contact beyond the mountain ridge after all. Glosson’s “Lonnie’s Fox Chase” is part Irish reel, part blues shuffle, part stomping bluegrass thunder. Using his voice to add percussion in and out of rhythm, Glosson had a few tricks up his sleeve as a harmonica player, but he used them very effectively, bending pitches that give the appearance that he’s changing keys on the same harmonica, and then singing through the harmonica body as he blew into it, creating true microtones. This psycho track is worth the price of the entire compilation.There’s supposedly a guitar on this cut as well but you can’t hear it and it doesn’t matter.

The other solid jam is DeFord Bailey’s “John Henry.” This is a blues stomp from 1928. The polyrhythms created by Bailey’s harmonica allowed for shifts and breaks in the melody in which the body of the tune changed from a country shuffle to a steamy blues while remaining recognizably the same song. Despite its flaws, this is still a worthy collection.

Ramblers, Gamblers, Vagabonds And Revelers

July 29, 2013

34ef6ed7e6001be052c4ed7e533781f2

Ramblers, Gamblers, Vagabonds And Revelers (4CD Proper Box Set)

from http://www.propermusic.com:

Retracing the musical footsteps of the archetypes of the early American society and culture reveals all the elements which cross-pollinated and fused together to make the beast that was Rock ‘n’ Roll in the 1950s.

From the world of Old-Timey and Country come the Carolina Tar Heels, Charlie Poole, Frank Hutchison, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and many more. The Country Blues of Peg Leg Howell, Robert Lee McCoy, Muddy Waters, Blind Jefferson, Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell showcase some of the most important musicians of the American Folk tradition. Add to that the Jazz, Cajun, Bluegrass and a multitude of other offshoots and styles and you can listen to the creation path of the style that took over the musical world and is still reigning ’till this day.

Covering much the same time span and social demography as the Lonesome Whistle Properbox set which came out in May, and featuring some of the same performers in the mix, the themes of this equally well-informed 4-CD anthology of roots recordings from the 1920s to the 50s are self-explanatory.

Audiophiles should be warned that early recordings are crackly transfers from shellac, which is entirely appropriate. It would be alarming if they were suddenly booming out in quadraphonic sound. Together with Lonesome Whistle, it comprises an eloquent diary of southern expression of the dispossessed either prevailing over circumstance, or simply falling by the wayside.

Many of the recordings provided repertoire for 50s UK skiffle, which in turn inspired the follow-up generation of British beat groups – along with rock ‘n’ roll. Includes an informative booklet on the history of American roots music and detailed information on each of the 100 tracks.

Women Singers from the Torrid Regions of the World

July 23, 2013

 

hot women2

from http://fivecreviews.blogspot.com:

Hot Women – Women Singers from the Torrid Regions of the World: CD Compilation By R. Crumb

Hot Women is a collection of 24 tracks taken from old 78 rpm recordings. They were gathered by none other than underground cartoonist/cultural icon R. Crumb, who also annotates the liner notes with what biographical information his friends could find on the web (Crumb himself knows not how to use the internet); we’re even treated to illustrations based on whatever photographs he could find of these women.

The earliest of the songs, like “Lu Fistinu Di Palermo” (Rosina Trubia Gioiosa of Sicily), comes to us from 1927; the latest, “Ballali Madja” (Hamsa Khalafe & Ali Atia, Africa), is dated around 1950. Most tracks come to us from the ‘30s, and possess both the eerie warmth and alien disembodiment that informs such cinematic tributes to the ‘30s as Triplets of Belleville and Pennies from Heaven, only more so: more so because while some of these “torrid regions” may be familiar to us (Lousiana, Cuba), others are decidedly less so (Tunisia, Middle Congo). I never imagined that Vietnam or Burma had viable pop recording industries 70 years ago.

Tony Baldwin handled remastering duties on Hot Women, and while I have no idea what the original recordings sound like, the effect is mesmerizing. The sound is still separated from reality, yet saturated with the physical effects of its context. “El Tambor De La Alegria”, a Cuban number from 1928, arrives as in a cloud of dust from the street, as though it exploded into being without the benefit of a producer. The mesmerizing “Chant D’Invitation A La Dance”, from the Middle Congo, built entirely on voice and finger piano, seems suffused with the miasma of an unfamiliar terrain and a stubborn refusal to be “properly” colonized.

If Crumb’s notes show an admiration for these women, his illustrations and the songs themselves seem to reflect the persistence of “exotic” cultures despite the oppressive gaze of the occidental eye. If Crumb’s cartoons turn misogyny on its head by deconstructing the misogynist impulse, his sharing of this music seems to critique colonialism by spreading its accidental treasures, the voices of the oppressed turning the entertainment of their oppressors into an expression of their own tenacity. This collection is grotesque, sexy, dissonant, desperate, and comical, both of this world and defiantly outside of it. These may not be the first hot women to haunt my daydreams, but they’re among the few I’ve ever felt so desperate to share.

hotwomen

Raw Fiddle

July 19, 2013

Raw Fiddle (Rounder CD), edited by Richard Spottswood

from http://www.rambles.net:

This two-disc set consists of 49 reissued songs and tunes taken from old 78s and chosen by the respected ethnodiscographer Dick Spottswood. The first CD carries the relatively more familiar material, from Southern (and, more rarely, Southwestern) white and black folk musicians, the styles covering the bases: dance tunes and hoedowns, blues, comic and novelty pieces, lyric songs.

The second features less often encountered sounds, of the sort now often called — vaguely enough — “world music.” Then it was just “foreign” to English-speaking Americans of the 1920s, when the bulk of these recordings were waxed. Here that means fiddle tunes and songs from Albania, Greece, Syria, Martinique, Trinidad, Scotland, Ireland, Cajun Louisiana, French Canada, Portugal, Poland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Germany, the Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria — and sometimes fusions, where two countries bordered one another and cultures meshed. Most are performed by immigrants to America — thus not actually “foreign” in anything but relatively recent arrival — who brought the old-country traditions, today largely vanished, with them.

Be assured, however, that everything here can be listened to with pleasure, and furthermore, you don’t have to be a violin player to appreciate it, though of course violinists will be picking up all kinds of things passing by the ears of those of us who aren’t. No matter; this is not just outstanding music, but accessible and entertaining, too. Spottswood obviously wants listeners, whoever they are and wherever they come from, to enjoy themselves. We do.

Even on the first disc he is not driving the usual warhorses, old recordings that have been revived and reissued to the point of exhaustion. Maybe half of the Southern material is known to me as a longtime listener of source recordings, and the other still sounds fresh enough not to have outworn welcomes. I can’t imagine that anyone could ever object to renewed acquaintance with, for example, the Carter Brothers & Son’s magnificently unhinged “Give the Fiddler a Dram” or the Bang Brothers’ cheerfully lascivious “When Lulu’s Gone.”

Disc two has delights flavored with surprises, with only the Cajun, Quebec and Celtic music likely not to sound — well, adjectives like “exotic” or “unusual” or “strange” only betray the listener’s ignorance and ethnocentrism. Let’s put it this way: Unless you grew up in a culture where these particular styles of fiddling and singing were a part of your life (or you happen to be an ethnomusicologist), you will be hearing something you’ve had little to no exposure to before. If you’re like me, you’ll be making a point to hear more. There are lots of good old-time reissues on the market, but none quite like this one.

Alan Lomax: Popular Songbook

July 13, 2013


Alan Lomax: Popular Songbook (Rounder CD)

reviewed by Gilbert Head (www.rambles.net):

It’s difficult to imagine a world without Alan Lomax. I’m not sure I’d want to try. Our friends at Rounder Records (whom some will doubtless think by now are my closet employers) have gifted us yet again with an indispensable piece of popular culture. Framed in the larger context of Rounder’s extensive Lomax catalogue, this sampler is essential for anybody who would seek to understand the evolution of popular music, both in the United States and in the wider world.

Before mentioning a few highlights and favorites, a word about the exceptional liner notes: masterful. Jeffrey Greenberg’s song notes are rich in detail and annotation, and the essay on Lomax’s role as the chronicler of modern popular music (by Gideon D’Archangelo, Anna Lomax Chairetakis and Ellen Harold) gives the listener the full context of what Lomax means to those of us who would understand how the music of yesterday has led to the music of today. Greenberg in particular will take exceptional delight in linking old prison-recorded tunes to the likes of such ’70s wunderkinder as Ram Jam. Even without the music, the notes provide an instant primer on the connectedness of the musical past to the musical present and the musical future.

The challenge in programming collections such as this is what to include and what to leave out. The smart producer recognizes that “getting it all” simply isn’t possible in the format of a single CD, and so it is with this disc. Instead, listeners are given a taste, a suggestion of possible avenues for further investigation. While any of us could have populated a disc with equally worthy cuts, this selection need apologize to no one.

The disc opens with “Joe Lee’s Rock,” a gutbucket blues piece recorded in 1959, and moves to a 1940 recording of “Do-Re-Mi” with a running commentary by Woody Guthrie. The congregation of the Independence Church in Tyro, Mississippi, next delivers solidly with the call-and-response “Jesus on the Mainline” (covered later by Ralph Stanley, Ry Cooder and others). The work of Leadbelly is introduced with a 1934 Angola Prison recording of “Midnight Special,” and Vera Ward Hall’s “Trouble So Hard” is heard in another powerful recording from 1959.

Further on down the line, we get the original recording of “Black Betty” here by James “Iron Head” Baker and other prisoners in Mississippi in 1933, later to be immortalized by the aforementioned Ram Jam. Again from 1959, Sidney Lee Carter offers “Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby,” a tune that would be expanded to great effect in the recent film O Brother Where Art Thou. That same year of 1959 would also yield the whimsical “Join the Band,” rendered with exceptional gusto by the Georgia Sea Island Singers. The surprises continue, with an early working of “Sloop John B,” recorded by Clayton Simmons and friends in the Bahamas in 1935. As is the case for all of these tunes, Greenberg notes that later popular artists brought the work into the mainstream (in this case, by the Beach Boys, in 1966).

The wonders continue. A very rudimentary form of “If You Wanna Be Happy for the Rest of Your Life” appeared first as “Ugly Woman,” presented here in a 1946 recording by the Duke of Iron. It is noted that Leadbelly’s “Gallows Pole” (1938) would ultimately find a wholly different audience in the 1970s when it was covered by Led Zeppelin. The work song “Rosie,” from a Mississippi Farm Penitentiary recording in 1947, documents a prime preoccupation of men behind bars, and is counterpointed strikingly with the haunting instrumental “Alborada de Vigo” (1942). The disc closes with Georgia Turner’s hard-edged 1937 version of “House of the Rising Sun” and Leadbelly’s “Irene Goodnight,” also from 1937 (later recorded as “Goodnight Irene” by damned near everybody).

All in all, this is a wonderful collection. It will lead you to music you never thought of exploring, and you may never listen to your Animals or Hendrix or Zeppelin records in precisely the same way again.

 

“Unheard Ofs and Forgotten Abouts”

July 10, 2013
  • Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts” (Tompkins Square/Pawn CD)

    reviewed by Stephen M. Deusner (edited from http://pitchfork.com):

A mixtape of old tracks culled from Frank Fairfield’s personal record collection sounds like a proposition to be wary of, one that no doubt revels in the past simply because it is past. Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts spans the globe, traipsing from Scotland to Nairobi to China to the Appalachian foothills. In fact, the compilation often sounds diverse for the sake of diversity– not to show off how wide his collection is, but to demonstrate the various strains of music around the globe.

The brightest spots may be the transitions, suggesting a careful sequencing that contrasts wildly diverse musical traditions. Fairfield creates the starkest contrast by setting the two a cappella religious tunes right at the end. “Atepa Yion”, a Byzantine liturgy featuring Chanter P. Manea’s dizzyingly low bass, is measured and restrained, which makes “By the Pool of Siloam” by Chicago’s Rev. Frank Cotton sound all the more exuberant and desperate.

At only 16 tracks, Unheard doesn’t attempt to be representative of any one particular style or location, but that doesn’t prevent Fairfield from trying to sum up the world.  His tendency to overreach, while incompatible with bustling modern-day venues, actually proves noble on Unheard Ofs. Even though some of these songs are nearly a century old, they still sound immediate and lively.

The best songs here suggest the musicians are barely maintaining control of the rambunctious music. “Hundred Pipers-Miss Drummond of Perth-Sleepy Maggie”, a medley by Pipe-Major Forsyth and Drums, ends right at the moment when the repeating reel becomes too fast and too intense to keep up with. The increasing tempo gives it a hypnotic, almost abstracted sound, as if the musicians are trying to break the confines of the song and break through your speaker. Similarly, a version of “La Bamba” by the once popular Veracruzian act Hermanos Huesca, nearly trips over its own feet in its excitement; that it stays upright is both a miracle and a testament to the prowess of its players.

More interesting than the music, perhaps, is its presentation. These songs are deeply embedded in the familiar hiss and crackle of aged shellac and vinyl, which occasionally overwhelms the performers but generally remains a subtle sepia tone. That pervasive collector’s static suggests that Fairfield’s true preservationist urge is not primarily toward the music, but the medium.

These old records carry the marks of their many years, which give them each a unique character. If you compiled this same tracklist with records from another collector, it would be a very different album. The songs would be the same, but the textures and grain would change subtly but significantly from one physical object to the next. That is the most intriguing aspect of Unheard Ofs: He has based this entire compilation on the wear of specific, obsolete objects, which upholds the song’s excitability while casting them as fascinatingly dusty museum pieces.

Rags, Breakdowns, Stomps and Blues

July 2, 2013

DOCD-32-20-03

Rags, Breakdowns, Stomps & Blues (Document CD)

from http://www.document-records.com:

These days the mandolin is almost exclusively identified with Bluegrass music but for decades it had maintained a regular showing in mainstream old time music, ragtime and blues (both urban and rural). This is illustrated to the dates appended to the title of this CD which refer at one end to Dallas Rag and Carbolic Rag, various display pieces, one each from the black and white traditions, and at the other Lint Head Stomp, a track often considered to be proto-Bluegrass.

The mixture is maintained throughout but is weighted in favor of black artists. Care has also been taken to present the mandolin in a supporting role or as a part of an ensemble. So, along with the finger-knotting rags, breakdowns and stomps from the like of Leecan and Cooksey, Prater and Haighs, The Dallas String Band, Mississippi Mud Steppers and Phebel Wright, you can hear the instrument working for its crust as part of a jug band, backing blues singers as Yank Rachel backs John Estes, or even keeping up with Arizona Dranes romping barrelhouse gospel piano.

The overriding principle has been excellence: excellence in selection, sound quality and presentation. The first two aspects are beyond reproach, carefully chosen track having been often lifted direct from good quality 78s and subjected to meticulous cleaning (without sacrificing any of the musical content), while the last is aided by a twelve page booklet, well illustrated in both black and white and colour, fronted by a glowing studio portrait of Charlie McCoy.

John Johnson

June 26, 2013

john_johnson

John Johnson: Strange Creek Fiddling, 1947 (West Virginia University Press)

edited from Paul Roberts (http://www.mustrad.org):

The late John Johnson (1916-96) of Strange Creek in Braxton County, West Virginia was the sort of figure around whom legends easily grow.  A man of many and varied talents and an inquiring, restless mind he was not readily constrained by his mountain upbringing, first joining the Army and then travelling the length and breadth of the US as an itinerant worker.  He was a master of many manual trades, had an enviable reputation as an athlete and strong man, and was an accomplished poet and painter as well as a musician.  Indeed, he was already something of a legendary figure in West Virginia fiddling when he made these recordings at the relatively young age of 31.

The 23 tracks presented here have been selected from 80 sides recorded by Professor Louis Chappell of West Virginia University over a concentrated two day session in August 1947 using a homemade aluminium-disc recording machine – some four days after his historic recording session with the great Edden (Edwin) Hammons.  Since then Johnson’s legend has continued to grow among fiddle enthusiasts.  Chappell is reputed to have considered him Hammons’ equal and others have compared him to the great Ed Haley.  Despite ‘discovery’ by the Old-Time fiddle revival in the late 1970s as far as I know these are the only recordings he made, which can only have helped maintain their legendary status.

Before we go any further let’s make it clear that the music on this CD is not really on a par with the extant recordings of Hammons and Haley.  It’s quite possible that at his peak Johnson was a comparable figure, but anyone expecting music of exactly the same stature on this disc will be disappointed.  To be fair, it has to be remembered that when these recordings were made he had not played for several years and didn’t even own a fiddle – he had to borrow one from Chappell.  This is not immediately obvious.  There is a slight awkwardness now and again, especially in his noting fingers which tend to occasionally bluff the adjacent string in typical beginners fashion, and there’s one glorious pause-clunk in Wagoner when the end of the bow seems to slip off the string (we’ve all done it).  But these are minor problems, his technique is seriously impressive by any standard, and quite astonishing given the conditions under which he was performing.

Read entire review here.

Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still

June 22, 2013
Various Artists - The Warner Collection, Vol. 1: Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still

The Warner Collection,
Vol. 1:
Her Bright Smile
Haunts Me Still

Reviewed by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

from http://www.acousticmusic.com:

Anne and Frank Warner collected folk songs  for over 40 years. Without an overabundance of funding though, their collecting was relegated to hobby status, and they would spend their weekends, vacations, and any spare time recording traditional American music along the Eastern Seaboard. In 1972, their collected recordings would be housed at the Library of Congress. Appleseed has  released a number of these recordings on Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still.

There are several things a listener will notice when first placing this CD in their disc player. First, that the number of selections-58-is a little overwhelming. The sheer number guarantees that many are under a minute, and only a few are over two. Individual singers perform many of these songs a cappella or with spare accompaniment. The fidelity ranges from very good to scratchy, but all of the words are clearly discernable.

There are a number magnificent recordings on Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still. Frank Proffitt is featured on seven tracks, and his performances include the ballad Tom Dooley, a song later borrowed and made famous by the Kingston Trio. Less polished and less romanticized, this version is sung at a brisk pace and accompanied by rhythm guitar. He performs a nice, long version of Little Maggie, a song that would become a bluegrass standard. Here, the haunting lyric is driven by Proffitt’s guitar and retains its old-time flavor.

Richard Hamilton offers two beautifully sung blues pieces, Freight Train Blues and Deep Elm Blues. A soldier stationed in New York, the Warners invited him to dinner and he brought along his guitar, leaving them with these soulful performances (and more than paying for his supper). There are a number of fairly morbid songs including Dorothy Howard’s Babes in the Woods, an anonymous singer’s Skin and Bones, and Eleazar Tillett & Martha Etheridge’s rendering of Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still. On this latter song, the singers deliver a devastating performance, complete with eerie, haunting vocals.

There is a nice balance between male and female performers on this album. It is interesting to note that when several people sing together, as on Wayfaring Stranger, the performers seldom harmonize. There is also an occasional instrumental, as with Been to the East by fiddler Steve Meekins. In several instances the performers are allowed to just talk, giving one a taste of their dialogue and the rhythm of their speech.

Once one takes the plunge into field recordings, there is no turning back. These recordings provide a listener with a reasonably priced way to enter and explore the beliefs and views of a completely different culture. Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still grows on the listener until there is nothing left to do but go out and purchase Nothing Seems Better to Me: the Music of Frank Proffitt & North Carolina, the second volume in the series.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 297 other followers