Archive for the ‘CD/LP reviews’ Category

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

July 21, 2014

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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

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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

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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

 

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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

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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
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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

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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.

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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

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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

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 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

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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):

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“American Folk and Country Festival”

May 13, 2014

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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

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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

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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.

County 701

June 18, 2013

images

from “Making Round Peak Music,” by James Randolph Ruchala:

“Clawhammer Banjo,” County 701, opened with Wade Ward’s “June Apple” and “John Lover’s Gone,” two Virginia favorites. Then, a bold contrast, comes Kyle Creed’s “Darlin’ Nellie Grey,” a banjo solo based on a popular song written by one Benjamin Hanby in 1856. Wade Ward’s banjo performances are driving, rhythmic powerhouses, with a twangy, echoing timbre.  Ward plays the main notes of his melody, and brushes across multiple strings to play chords in between the melodic phrases.

Creed’s performance displayed all the hallmarks of his style—melodic more than rhythmic, with a frequent use of the fifth string as both a drone and a melody string, many slides and open strings, very few chords. Creed brushes across multiple strings, too, but does so more slowly than Ward, creating the effect not of a chord, but of a melodic grace note.

But what really stands out after Wade Ward is Kyle Creed’s mellow timbre, reminiscent, perhaps of a xylophone or some other percussion instrument. This full and round timbre was what he called “plunky” and it would come to be an influence on players and builders of banjos, as will be shown in chapter six.

“Darlin’ Nellie Gray” is followed by “Ducks on the Millpond,” an old dance tune popular in Virginia and North Carolina, and Kyle uses it to demonstrate the lick that would come to be known, inaccurately, as the “Galax lick.” This move involves brushing across the long strings of the banjo before plucking the fifth string squarely on the beat to play a melody note, usually the high A.

Three tracks of Fred Cockerham’s wild fretless banjo playing follow Kyle. “Pretty Little Miss,” “Long Steel Rail,” and “Little Maggie” show Fred’s bag of inventive tricks: bluesy slides, wild intonation, very low drone strings for some tunings, strange noises and “clucks” that defy notation, and Fred’s low-pitched and expressive singing. If Kyle was the precise and
plunky side of what would come to be called Round Peak banjo, Fred was the bluesy and inventive side.

Rough Carpenters

June 14, 2013

Rough Carpenters (CD)  by The Black Twig Pickers

The Black Twig Pickers will appear at the Rendezvous, in Turners Falls, MA on Sunday, June 16. Please look here.

review of “Rough Carpenters” from http://www.tinymixtapes.com:

Two voices trace a melody through the air in unison, sparking miniature harmonies in their moments of divergence. They synchronize into a close lead — a Melody Plus, now with double the impact. This telepathic duet is known as a jugalbandi (literally “twins entwined”) in the Indian classical tradition. Fall deep into a skilled jugalbandi and you’ll come to perceive only one voice, nuanced to death, split across the room into two bodies.

On “I’ll Play The High Card, You Play The Ace,” our second taste of The Black Twig Pickers’ forthcoming Rough Carpenters, fiddlers Mike Gangloff and Sally Anne Morgan treat us to an Appalachian jugalbandi. The string duo winds through the traditional folk melody as one voice, their conjoined runs and double stops rising over a backbone of banjo and fingerpicked guitar.

Assertions of East meeting West aren’t so far-fetched here, given that the BTPs share half their personnel with drone/raga/psych explorers Pelt. If that ensemble overtly bridges cultures by deriving song structures and instrumentation from the carnatic tradition, the BTPs keep things closer to home, achieving a back-porch liveness gilded with a few jewels of the Baroda Palace.

The Black Twig Pickers have blurred the line between the modern and the Lomax for eight albums and counting, channeling traditional tunes through their experience with more “out”-minded musics. In the case of “I’ll Play the High Card, You Play the Ace,” considerations of the music’s lineage or geographical origin pale in the light of that Melody Plus: twin fiddles entwined for three wholly pleasurable minutes.

Charlie Poole with the Highlanders

June 7, 2013

51MDBiSzakL._SY300_

new from Tompkins Square Records, reviewed at http://www.countysales.com:

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Screen shot 2013-06-06 at 4.32.34 PM

The Johnson City Sessions

June 5, 2013

d6610b7450934d54741592b3139d5531_johnson_city

“The Johnson City Sessions: “Can You Sing or Play Old-Time Music?” (Bear Family 4 CD and booklet)

edited from http://www.johnsoncitypress.com:

In 1928, just as their fellow musicians had a year before in Bristol, men and women came in from the farms and down from the mountains to Johnson City. The lure was money, a chance at fame, or, at the very least, an opportunity to have their voices recorded on a 78 rpm record for posterity. The Johnson City sessions of 1928-29 that resulted may not have been the big bang of country music, but they were a major aftershock.

 
In 1928, Frank Walker of Columbia Records was hoping lightning would strike twice in the Tri-Cities area. The Bristol Sessions recorded by Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company were tremendously successful, making stars of The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.

 
Walker put an ad in the Johnson City Chronicle asking “Can you sing or play Old-Time music?” “Musicians of unusual ability” were invited to “call upon Mr. Walker or Mr. Brown of the Columbia Phonograph Company at 334 East Main Street.” That address was the location of a defunct lumber company at what is now Colonial Way near WJHL.

 
“The Johnson City Sessions were better organized,” Ted Olson, professor of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University, said.

 

 

“There was more advertising, more scouting, more capital put into promotions up front.”
The ad ran three times in late September and early October. Olson said that more singers and musicians participated in the Johnson City Sessions than in the Bristol Sessions.

 

 
“They saw the ads and made it to the tryouts on Oct. 13, 1928, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The recording sessions were held over four days, Monday, Oct. 15 to Thursday, Oct. 18. A few of the musicians who saw the ad and heard it was happening had already recorded for Ralph Peer,” he said, “but most of those who recorded in Johnson City were not part of the Bristol Sessions.”

 
Among them were the Roane County Ramblers from the Kingston-Harriman area outside of Knoxville, who became one of the biggest bands to emerge from the Johnson City Sessions of 1928. Charlie Bowman of Gray — who recorded for Walker along with his brothers and sisters — was “a real success story,” Olson said.  While many of the musicians who recorded in Johnson City lived in East Tennessee, he pointed out, some of the musicians probably traveled from the Greensboro-Burlington area of North Carolina or from the Corbin, Ky., area. (more…)

“Turn Me Loose”

May 31, 2013

TSQ2905_TurnMeLoose.1400-1024x1024

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

from http://www.tompkinssquare.com and http://www.dustygroove.com:

Frank Fairfield curates another reissue of 78 rpm records – this time with the help of a few of his collector friends. The collection focuses on some of the most seldom acknowledged varieties of Anglo-American vernacular music. You’ll hear unusual performers, uncommon instrumentation and great fiddlers from California to Ohio, New Mexico to West Virginia. Forget “Americana”, this collection shows Anglo-American down-home music as it actually was and in many cases (although largely unrecognized) still is. With painstaking audio restoration by the great Michael Kieffer (Origin Jazz Library).

A great little set that really lives up to the promise of its title – and it’s claim to offer up “commercial recordings of Anglo-European American vernacular music that challenges the stereotypes”! The set’s a wealth of obscure 78rpm recordings that really defy genre convention – and which show that the 20s was easily one of the most experimental times in American music – a point when later common styles were really quite new, and still very fluid – bits of later blues, folk, or country intermingling equally – often from sources that you wouldn’t expect a decade or two later.

These tracks are all acoustic, but feature really inventive instrumentation – especially when modes of a generation or two before are pushed into new phrasings with decidedly (then) modern flavors. As usual with these Tompkins Square reissues, the sound quality is great – and the package offers up some good notes to help situate the music too.

1. Wagoner – Bob Skiles Four Old Timers
2. Don’t Get One Woman On Your Mind – Willard Hodgin
3. Bacon And Cabbage – Blind Joe Mangrum and Fred Shriver
4. The Whale Did, I Know He Did – Mustard and Gravy
5. Chicken Reel – Tweedy Brothers
6. Ladies’ Quadrille
7. Way Down Yonder Blues – Lemuel Turner
8. Money Musk Medley – John Batzell
9. Down In Tennessee Blues – Homer Davenport
10. Caliope – Lewis Brothers
11. Mythological Blues – Ernest Rogers
12. Dill Pickles Rag – McLaughlin’s Old Time Melody Makers
13. Arkansas Traveller / Turkey In The Staw – Alphus McFadyen
14. Mister Johnson Turn Me Aloose – Southern Georgia Highballers

La Musique de la Maison

May 26, 2013

OJL_3001

La Musique De La Maison - Women And Home Music In South Louisiana (Origin Jazz Library CD)

from http://www.venerablemusic.com:

“La Musique de la Maison” is a rich and historic collection of rare French ballads sung by Cajun and Creole women. Many people are now familiar with the French dance music of Southwest Louisiana, but in there exists a parallel, more private side of French Louisiana music: the a cappella songs (solo unaccompanied voice).

Because of where they were usually performed, these songs are sometimes referred to as “home music”: A mother and daughter sit on the front porch at dusk; friends take a mid-afternoon respite around the fireplace or kitchen table; extended family gathers at a wedding, and the songs flow as freely as the libations.

Traditionally, women have been expected to present what was considered an upstanding example of social behavior. Public musical performance, especially in the context of the bar or dance hall, was considered unseemly. So, with the public arena essentially off-limits, private or home music was left wide open for feminine exploration.

Old ballads or epic songs, drinking songs, game songs, and lullabies were sung at bals de maisons (home parties), veillées (evening visits) and family gatherings. Men and women sat out on the front porch or around the fireplace and traded songs for entertainment. The younger generation learned from their elders, either directly or by eavesdropping on the adults singing at the top of their lungs. Some of these songs also functioned at dances as reels à bouche, or dances rondes during Lent when voices were used as substitutes for forbidden instruments.

The home music songs of French Louisiana are a wondrous collection of tales with images more vivid than any modern film. They are timeless, beautiful songs filled with intrigue, sex, grisly murder, drinking, lessons in morality, and a heaping portion of humor. While some date back to medieval France and others contain more modern influences of the New World, all these songs touch upon themes that are universal and as relevant today as yesteryear.

The singers are young and old and as varied as their songs. The recordings in La musique de la maison were made from the late 1940s to the 1970s by many renowned folklorists, including Harry Oster and Ralph Rinzler, who visited these singers at their homes, schools and parties.

The advent of radio and television in the 1950s opened other entertainment options for the families of this rural area, so unfortunately the home music tradition began to pass away with its practitioners. In recent years, though, there has been renewed interest in these wonderful old songs from young Louisiana singers and bands. This makes “La musique” all the more important in providing support to continue this magnificent tradition.

Includes liner notes by Lisa Richardson, Marce Lacouture, and Carolyn Dural

“Country Fiddle: Fine Early String Band Music” on JSP

May 23, 2013

JSP77171(1)

New 4 CD JSP release available here.

DISC 1:

EARL JOHNSON & HIS CLODHOPPERS:

  • I’VE GOT A WOMAN ON SOURWOOD MOUNTAIN
  • LEATHER BREECHES
  • THE LITTLE GRAVE IN GEORGIA
  • RED HOT BREAKDOWN
  • I GET MY WHISKY FROM ROCKINGHAM
  • EARL JOHNSON’S ARKANSAS TRAVELLER
  • POOR LITTLE JOE
  • OLD GREY MARE KICKING OUT OF THE WILDNERESS
  • ALL NIGHT LONG
  • MISSISSIPPI JUBILEE
  • JOHNNIE GET YOUR GUN
  • LAUGHIN’ RUFUS
  • TWINKLE LITTLE STAR
  • IN THE SHADOW OF THE PINE
  • WIRE GRASS DRAG

EARL JOHNSON & HIS DIXIE ENTERTAINERS:

  • THREE NIGHTS EXPERIENCE
  • DIXIE
  • AIN’T NOBODY’S BUSINESS
  • JOHN HENRY BLUES
  • I DON’T LOVE NOBODY
  • I’M SATISFIED
  • JOHNSON’ OLD GREY MULE
  • SHORTENIN’ BREAD
  • HEN CACKLE
  • MISSISSIPPI SAWYER

DISC 2:

LEAKE COUNTY REVELERS:

  • SATURDAY NIGHT BREAKDOWN
  • GEORGIA CAMP MEETING
  • JOHNSON GAL
  • LEATHER BREECHES
  • THE OLD HAT
  • MONKEY IN THE DOG CART
  • WEDNESDAY NIGHT WALTZ
  • I’M GWINE BACK TO DIXIE
  • UNCLE NED
  • LONESOME BLUES
  • GOOD FELLOW
  • DRY TOWN BLUES
  • MISSISSIPPI BREAKDOWN
  • SWEET ROSE OF HEAVEN
  • LAKE COUNTY BLUES
  • BEEN TO THE EAST – BEEN TO THE WEST
  • MOLLY PUT THE KETTLE ON
  • THIRTY FIRST STREET BLUES
  • JULIA WALTZ
  • IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME
  • ROCKIN’ YODEL
  • BIRDS IN THE BROOK
  • THEY GO WILD, SIMPLY WILD OVER ME
  • CROW BLACK CHICKEN
  • LAZY KATE

DISC 3:

EAST TEXAS SERENADERS:

  • ACORN STOMP
  • COMBINATION RAG
  • SWEETEST FLOWER
  • BABE
  • THREE IN ONE TWO-STEP
  • DREAM SHADOWS
  • BEAUMONT RAG
  • ARIZONA STOMP
  • SHANNON WALTZ
  • DEL RIO WALTZ
  • SAY A LITTLE PRAYER FOR ME
  • EAST TEXAS DRAG
  • GULF BREEZE WALTZ
  • ALDELINE WALTZ
  • OZARK RAG
  • BEFORE I GREW UP TO LOVE YOU
  • SHANNON WALTZ
  • MINEOLA RAG
  • SERENADER’S WALTZ
  • DEACON JONES
  • MEADOW BROOK WALTZ

FREENY HARMONISERS:

  • PRODUNK TODDLE

WALKERS CORBIN RAMBLERS:

  • STONE MOUNTAIN TODDLE

GRINNEL GIGGERS:

  • DUCK SHOES RAG
  • PLOW BOY HOP

DISC 4:

AIKEN COUNTY STRING BAND:

  • CHARLESTON RAG
  • SAVANNAH RIVER STRIDE
  • HARRISBURG ITCH
  • HARD TIMES BREAKDOWN

DR. SMITH’S CHAMPION HOSS HAIR PULLERS:

  • GOING DOWN THE RIVER
  • JUST GIMME THE LEAVINGS
  • UP IN GLORY
  • SAVE MY MOTHER’S PICTURE FROM THE SALE
  • IN THE GARDEN WHERE THE IRISH POTATOES GROW

DR. HUMPHREY’S BATE & HIS POSSUM HUNTERS:

  • GOIN’ UP TOWN
  • MY WIFE DIED SATURDAY NIGHT
  • BILLY IN THE LOW GROUND
  • EIGHTH OF JANUARY
  • THROW THE OLD COW OVER THE FENCE
  • TAKE YOUR FOOT OUT OF THE MUD AND PUT IT IN THE SAND

CHENOWETH’S CORNFIELD SYMPHONY ORCH:

  • THE LAST SHOT GOT HIM

CHEROKEE RAMBLERS:

  • GOIN’ DOWN THE ROAD FEELIN’ BAD
  • MAGNOLIA WALTZ

FLOYD MING & HIS PEP-STEPPERS:

  • INDIAN WAR WHOOP
  • TUPELO BLUES
  • WHITE MULE

MOATSVILLE STRING TICKLERS:

  • WEST VIRGINIA HILLS
  • MOATSVILLE BLUES

DYKES MAGIC CITY TRIO:

  • FRANKIE
  • POOR ELLEN SMITH

Mister Charlie’s Blues

May 15, 2013

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Review of “Mister Charlie’s Blues 1926-1938″ (Yazoo, 1970) from http://record-fiend.blogspot.com:

In case you were wondering, “Mister Charlie” is an obsolete African-American slang term for Caucasian male that is in the same vein as “whitey,” “honky,” “cracker,” and “buckra.” These 14 tracks are not simply hillbilly recordings. More specifically, they are examples of Southern white musicians performing material that was either blues in a technical sense or had been strongly influenced by their black counterparts. As the Yazoo brain trust discusses in the liner notes,

While the bluesman’s imitations of white and pop music always rank as his most banal work, the hillbilly’s encroachments upon a genre that has always been held as the province of blacks make for fascinating music. They also make a mockery of the old notion that no white can play country blues, and even expose the deficiencies of many contemporary whites who work the blues idiom. The usual failing of the hillbilly blues guitarist is the same that nearly always inheres in white guitar-playing of the 1920′s: a preference for limiting picking patterns that the best musicians of either race always surmounted. In general, the sensitivity of the white blues musician is remarkable when one considers the race prejudices of his class.

Even though I’m not a musician, I think what they are getting at is that the typically white obsession with rigidity and structure has often stood in the way of artistic innovation, whereas the more improvisatory approach of black instrumentalists from the 1800s and early 1900s generally led to the development of new and uniquely American styles of musical expression.

The sides presented here for the most part focus on the hillbilly anomalies (i.e. those among “the best musicians of either race” mentioned above), and what wonderful exceptions to the rule they are. Indeed, certain labels in the 1920s and 1930s felt some of these performances sounded so authentically black that they were marketed as race records. (more…)

“Black Mirror”

May 11, 2013
  • Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Music 1918-1955 (Dust-to-Digital)

    edited from Mike McGonigal (http://pitchfork.com):

    Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Music (1918-1955) is an enthused, superbly-curated collection of rare 78s. The set was compiled by Ian Nagoski.  Nagoski’s been collecting 78s since he was in high school, intrepidly and often blindly looking for stuff that sounds cool, even if the labels were all in Russian and he had no idea what it was going to sound like. As you can guess from the title, this assemblage of material comes from long ago and far away, all over the globe: Syria, Thailand, Laos, Yugoslavia, Scotland, Cameroon, China, Vietnam, England, Turkey, and a dozen more.

It’s always a treat to be reminded of how much amazing music there is in the world that you’ve never heard. Seventy-five percent of this material has never been issued on CD, so both bushy-eyed world music newcomers and intrepid crate-combers will find an awful lot to dig in these 24 songs. In fact, only one track’s ever been released on a CD in the States before. Black Mirror stacks performers of great renown (at the time) next to uncredited musicians performing folk musics that stretch back for centuries. All of them are obscure today, of course.

When a thing is done with absolute love, it tends to show. I’m not a huge fan of CDs myself; I have a lot of vinyl and more mp3s than I can count. But it’s awfully hard to imagine these songs without the lovely 24-page booklet that comes with the set. The liner notes are lush with information about each track, as much as Nagoski could find anyway. He also brings the listener back to the very dawn of recorded sound by reproducing some of the earliest reactions to Edison’s great invention, the phonograph. Nagoski writes with awe himself about finding a special, strange record in a dusty corner, and about how amazing it is that these round, brittle discs can transfer such absolute magic from one generation to another.

There are indeed magical possibilities when it comes to assembling and editing a collection such as this; it’s no accident that alchemical symbols dot Harry Smith’s liner notes to his celebrated urtext, the three-volume Anthology of American Folk Music. Nagoski also quotes from his own translation of the spiritual-minded, avant-garde poet Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, even borrowing the album’s title from one of his works. All that places the material in a different context than one usually finds in globetrotting collections of ye olde records, which often suffer the post-colonial hangover of exoticism. Here’s to hoping that Nagoski compiles at least a dozen more records like it. Black Mirror just might be the most remarkable collection of its sort since Pat Conte ceased his CD reissue series Secret Museum of Mankind in 1998.

Mountain Blues: Blues, Ballads and String Bands 1927-1938

May 5, 2013

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from http://www.allmusic.com:

Country has been called the white man’s blues, but the phrase has probably only been truly accurate when applied to the so-called hillbilly records from the 1920s and 1930s, the period and genre covered by this four-disc, 100-track anthology from JSP.

Not that everything here is actually blues (the string band selections in particular are really dance reels that happened to have the word “blues” in the title), and a fair portion of these cuts don’t have any real geographical association with the Southern mountains, either, but you have to give a box set a title, so Mountain Blues it is.

With hindsight, a lot of these performances seem a bit generic, but there is a lot here, as well, that is startling in its freshness, even at a 75-year distance. Disc A gives us “Blue Grass Twist” (which isn’t bluegrass, mind you) by the South Georgia Highballers, featuring some amazing guitar work from Vander Everidge and some stylish, almost pop guitar from Riley Puckett (best known for his work in the Skillet Lickers string band) on “I Get the Blues When It Rains.”

Disc B presents Slim Smith’s jaunty “Bread Line Blues,” Clarence Ashley’s spooky modal banjo classic “Dark Hollow Blues,” and Samantha Bumgarner’s fragile singing and strong banjo on “The Worried Blues,” a version of “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.”

Highlights of the third disc include the steel guitar work of Lemuel Turner on “Way Down Yonder Blues” and “Jake Bottle Blues,” and the zither playing of Nonnie Smith (who would enjoy a bit of a musical revival 40 years later in the 1970s) on the Perry County Music Makers’ “I’m Sad and Blue.”

The final disc features the amazing sound of Texas fiddle master Prince Albert Hunt on “Blues in a Bottle” (which the Lovin’ Spoonful — minus the fiddle — would cover successfully in the 1960s) and closes with the venerable guitar-and-fiddle team of Richard Burnett and Leonard Rutherford on “All Night Long Blues.”

Perhaps a bit too extensive for the casual listener, Mountain Blues will certainly please collectors and historians interested in the era covered, and it’s difficult to imagine a more comprehensive set of white blues 78s. The liner notes are a bit on the brief side, but they cover the basics, although the track notes that list the players and instruments aren’t always accurate. Still, there’s so much music here, it’s hard to quibble.

Mirth, Music, and Moonshine

April 29, 2013

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from http://www.venerablemusic.com:

Country Music has always included a generous amount of humor and never more so than during the 1920s and early 30s. After all, Country Music as we know it was born in the days of prohibition and record companies were quick to realize the potential of recording “skits” with their essentially rural artists charting these little adventures of the wily country boy attempting to outwit the revenue men while making illicit “moonshine” back in the hills.

This is a fun collection of rural comedy with some great music thrown in for good measure. It was also a good trailer for the complete versions of songs and tunes, which it was hoped, would wet the appetite of the purchaser to go out and buy the full version.

It is worth noting that, on the Okeh Medicine Show, the Black Brothers are Carson Robison & Frank Luther, and Bud Blue is in fact Fred “Sugar” Hall, one half of the Fields & Hall act. Recordings from 1928-1934.

The Okeh Medicine Show Acts I–VI
The Feller That Looks Like Me – Hillbillies
Over At Tom’s House – Blue Ridge Entertainers
The Fiddlers Contest – Blue Ridge Entertainers
Since She Took My Licker From Me – John Carson & Moonshine Kate
A Serenade In The Mountains Pts. 1 & 2 – E.V. Stoneman & The Blue Ridge Corn Shuckers
It’s Funny What Whiskey Will Do – Louis Bird
The Beer Party – Charlie Wilson & His Hay Loft Boys
Kentucky Bootlegger – Fruit Jar Guzzlers (Stevens & Bolar)
Day At The County Fair Pts. 1 & 2 – Skillet Lickers
I Ain’t A Bit Drunk – George “Shortbuckle” Roark
A Bee Hunt On Hell Fer Sartin Creek Pts. 1 & 2 – Skillet Lickers
Chickens In The Garden – Hugh Roden & Roy Rodgers

“Origins of Guitar Music”

April 24, 2013

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ORIGINS OF GUITAR MUSIC IN SOUTHERN CONGO AND NORTHERN ZAMBIA, recorded by Hugh Tracey (Sharp Wood 15/HT09)

from http://www.muzikifan.com:

Hugh Tracey issued a staggering total 210 recordings in his career so what we know as the received canon is not even the tip of the iceberg. A tobacco farmer in the thirties, Tracey learned work songs alongside his field-hands and was surprised no one else was remotely interested in the music.

A true African explorer, Tracey was the first to devote his life to finding and recording the music, and set off with two sound trucks and a crew of four to operate the recording equipment on his musical safaris from the Cape as far as the border of Sudan in the north. In those days, like today, the roads were non-existent in many places.

He needed 240 volts of power to run the recording machines, so his noisy generator truck had to be parked behind a hut or anthill, and he also had to deal with crowds that would show up to watch him record. He didn’t use mike stands but personally held the microphone rather than leave it to the inexperienced performers to play to the mike.

Four of the songs here were on AFRICAN ACOUSTIC … FROM THE COPPERBELT (the LP) issued by John Storm Roberts, a couple of tracks are on the GUITARS OF AFRICA put out by Kaleidophone in 1972, and a couple more are on the classic 1954 MUSIC OF AFRICA 5: “The Guitars of Africa,” which includes the “Classical Gas” of Africa (“Masanga” by Mwenda Jean Bosco) as well as the “Stairway to Heaven” of African guitar (Bosco’s “Mama na mwana”).

The latter is included on this new compilation; we’ll have to wait for a further issue to collect the other tunes. Six of the songs here have never been released before, so clearly there is a wealth of material in the archives. In addition there are the scholarly notes on each track by Tracey. (On the original albums he would tell you what the song was about and add other comments in his charming British accent. The only remnant of that here is his counting in one intro.)

Many of the original tapes were destroyed in a fire in the late fifties. This is a tragedy, but may have prompted Tracey on a further visit to the same regions to rerecord the musicians he could find. But the music was evolving rapidly as people moved to urban centers, particularly to find work in the copper mines, and became exposed to Western music through the radio.

Tracey points out echoes of Glenn Miller and Chet Atkins in some of the songs. The area covered by these recordings received British rather than French-run radio and, though the Congo was Belgian-controlled at the time, there’s a very different feeling in the music from the rumba sound that was emerging in Kinshasa concurrently.

Two other perennial favorites from the Tracey archives are here: “Elube,” by De Ndirande Pitch Crooners of Malawi and “Gwabi Gwabi” by Zimbabwean George Sibanda.

The recordings have been digitally restored. You can hear the simple percussion clearly (knife on Fanta bottle, or scraper), backing the vocals. This is one of the cornerstones of African popular music. There are 21 volumes in the series.

Jody Stecher and The Real Bahamas

April 21, 2013

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The Real Bahamas (Nonesuch Records), recorded by Pete Siegel and Jody Stecher

by Jody Stecher (from liner notes):

We were strangers, conspicuously white-skinned, suspected of being Beatles (who had just been there filming Help!) or tax collectors. Peter Siegel was 21 years old; I had just turned 19. We had come to the Bahamas to record the spirituals and anthems of the region and, particularly, the distinctive Bahamian vocal style called “rhyming.”

On our first day in Nassau we began our search for the legendary singer and guitarist Joseph Spence. We asked everyone, and the response was uniform and predictable: “Sure mon, I know Spence”—until we arrived in his own neighborhood. Nobody knew of Spence, and a young woman standing in the doorway of a cottage sternly asked us why we were looking for him. When we said that we wanted to record Spence’s music she brightened and offered to take us to his house; gathering several small children from behind her long skirt, she escorted us next door.

Spence’s wife Louise seemed to be expecting us and served us conch fritters. In the corner was a black guitar leaning on a small amplifier bearing a sign: “Joseph Spence—The Voice from Heaven.” Spence himself came home, and after a tour of the banana trees in the back yard we set up a time to record him with his sister Edith and her family. This session was recorded in the yard of the home of Raymond and Edith Pinder, some distance away.

The yard was full of children and lush subtropical trees and plants. We began recording at dusk and, as the night deepened, more and more neighbors showed up. Edith’s husband, Raymond Pinder, sang bass, and their daughter Geneva sang the high parts (treble). With her strong and compelling voice, Edith sang lead most of the time. Joseph Spence would sing a part all his own, along with his unique guitar playing.

One song from that session, “I Bid You Goodnight,” became world-famous not long after Volume I of The Real Bahamas was released in 1966; the Incredible String Band and the Grateful Dead subsequently recorded the song, and it has also been used as the closing theme for several American radio stations.

The Reverend W.G. McPhee was very helpful in locating good singers and we recorded some of them at his home, including the Swain family and the legendary singer from Andros, Frederick McQueen, with his high-pitched, otherworldly voice and uncanny melodic sense. The Swain family—Shelton Swain, his son Ronald, and cousin Stanley—and George McKenzie were all from the island of Abaco. When still a boy, Shelton had learned his musical style in the sponge-fishing days from the great rhyming singer Peter Elliot; he recalled how Elliot took him on his knee after hearing him sing, saying, “Son, I could take you and run a nation.”

The Swains told us about a great singer, Bruce Green from Moores Island, and arranged a meeting with him. Mr. Green had with him two splendid younger singers, Clifton Green and Tweedie Gibson. The atmosphere of our hotel room, where this session was recorded, became elevated by the innate nobility and the pure, dignified presence of these three men.

We set out for Moores Island, hoping to find and record more rhyming singers but managed to get only as far as Marsh Harbor, on the island of Abaco. There we encountered Lyndall Albury, a singer of English ballads and folksongs. Marsh Harbor was founded by her ancestors, Loyalists to the English crown who had left the Carolina colony after their cause was defeated in the American Revolution. The layout of the village, style of the houses, the speech and bearing of the people were so much of another time and place that we felt ourselves bewitched and transported into a dream world far removed from 1965.

“Old Time Black Southern String Band Music”

April 17, 2013
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Butch Cage & Willie B. Thomas: Old Time Black Southern String Band Music (Arhoolie)

from http://www.offbeat.com:

With the  passing of African-American fiddler Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong and the remaining few practitioners like octogenarian Joe Thompson, America is losing its last links to the black string band tradition that dates back to slavery. At least one thread of this rich legacy will be preserved with this 1960s recording of Butch Cage (fiddle) and Willie B. Thomas (guitar) who lived in Zachary, Louisiana when folklorist Dr. Harry Oster recorded them.

Not only were the rural, raw musicians part of the resultant Country Negro Jam Sessions LP (also part of Arhoolie’s catalogue) but through Oster, they had the opportunity of playing the 1960 Newport Folk Festival.

Since Cage and Thomas were born in the late 19th century to sharecropper parents, you couldn’t ask for better pedigrees in time-honored American roots music. Both played suppers and house parties for years, culling songs from a vast repertoire of hillbilly, blues and spirituals, much like they do here.

Cage’s pipes boom over Thomas’ thin, papery voice, and Cage’s scratchy, earthy fiddling and Thomas’ straight, unvaried strumming support them. They warble in and out of unison while still maintaining a terrifically soulful chemistry. Eventually others get in the act and sing, making the tracks feel like a community effort.

The last two tracks are spiritually stirring, especially “You’ve Gotta Move,” where various participants harmonize on the refrain whenever the spirit moves them. Another forgotten piece of American’s music has just been revealed.

Rural Parlor Guitar

April 12, 2013

 from http://grapewrath.wordpress.com:

  Rural Parlor Guitar – Recordings from 1967-1971 (COUNTY CD-2744)

Artists: E. C. Ball, Earl Blair, Lena Hughes, Lewis Thomasson

RURAL PARLOR GUITAR is the one of the very few commercial recording to focus on this genre, and the only one to include multitude artists from different regions. Each of the four musicians was raised in rural areas in the early 1900s: Lena Hughes in northwest Missouri; Earl Blair in the Arkansas Ozarks; Lewis Thomasson in the open plains of Coryell County, Texas, and E. C. Ball in the southwest mountains of Virginia. They learned to play — without sheet music, radio or recordings – from family and other musicians.

All the defining characteristics of the parlor guitar genre are here: open tunings; the use of three and four fingers, arpeggios, hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides and harmonics. Many of the tracks have never been available commercially before; each is an excellent representation of parlor guitar. The tuning for each song is included.

“The guitar styles depicted in this CD are all different, yet very representative of what one might have found in the rural south eighty or more years ago. Only a handful of guitarists in the 1920s, such as Roy Harvey and Leonard Copeland, made commercial recordings in this flavor, making this collection an invaluable resource for parlor-style guitar.” – Jeremy Stephens

“19th century parlor guitar was the foundation or an influence for the playing of early rural guitar players as diverse as Elizabeth Cotten and Sam McGee. Probably even the early blues players. This CD presents some of the last players of this rarely recorded style.” – Mike Seeger

All the recordings, save for E. C. Ball’s two self-recordings, were made by Charlie Faurot on his trips to their homes from 1967 to 1971.

Hellbenders

April 6, 2013

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from http://www.brucemolsky.com and http://www.fieldrecorder.com:

FRC700 – The Hellbenders   $15 (available here):
The Hellbenders, Bruce Molsky and James Leva (fiddles), David Winston (banjo), Mary Winston (guitar) and Dave Grant (bass) made these recordings in Charlottesville, VA released on cassette in 1990 and digitally remixed and remastered by Al Tharp from his original recordings for this CD.

Dave Grant, who was the soul of the band, was killed in a work accident in 2002. He was an inspiration in music and in life. This album is dedicated with love and appreciation to Dave Grant.

The Hellbenders was a unique old-time musical feast. Inspired by players heard from all over Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, and by the classic old recordings of southern mountain music, they went in the studio in 1989 and recorded a cassette, kind of a testament to the music scene and everything that was happening around them at that time. High energy, no holds barred string band music, fiddles blazing.

1. Altamont
2. Train on the Island
3. Chinquapin
4. Tight Old Sally Gal
5. Red Mountain Wine
6. Betty Baker
7. She Took it Off
8. Indian War Whoop
9. Cider
10. Baby Waltz
11. Poor Little Mary (Sittin’ in the Corner)
12. Bravest Cowboy
13. Sambo
14. Woop Reprise

The Hellbenders play “Cider”:

The Devil’s Dream: Sid Hemphill

April 1, 2013

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SID HEMPHILL
The Devil’s Dream
Mississippi Records (LP) $13

review from http://pitchfork.com:

In The Land Where the Blues Began, the folklorist Alan Lomax recalls his epic field-recording voyage through the Mississippi Delta in the early 40s, undertaken at a time when, for Lomax, the stakes felt particularly high. “I knew this was to be my last song-collecting jaunt before the Army got me, maybe the last time I would ever hear the alley blues and the hallelujah spirituals that I believe are the best art our country has produced,” he wrote, and not without discernible yearning.

That urgency would eventually yield the first recordings of Muddy Waters and Honeyboy Edwards, and the first recordings of Son House since his Paramount days, but it’s hard not to feel like Lomax’s desperation– for ferocity, inventiveness, some kind of rapture– was probably best assuaged by his discovery of Sid Hemphill, the so-called “boar-hog musician of the hills,” a fiddler and string band-leader once described to Lomax as “the best musician in the world.”

Lomax found Hemphill in Senatobia, deep in Mississippi’s Hill Country. He’d driven across a crumbling bridge and approached a “sagging, unpainted door on a weathered-gray, warping house.” Before he could knock, Hemphill, then 65, swung it open. “No one had told me that Sid Hemphill was blind, but it was the last thing you’d recall about him,” Lomax explained. “His face blazed with inner light.”

On August 15, 1942, Lomax committed 15 tracks by Hemphill and his backing band (Lucius Smith, Alec “Turpentine” Askew, and Will Head) to acetate disc. Hemphill never recorded commercially, and only Lomax’s field recordings of his work are extant– meaning that unless you knew a guy (shoddy cassette tapes of Hemphill’s songs, sourced from Lomax’s discs, have been spotted in the damp palms of 78 collectors for decades, passed about like contraband), The Devil’s Dream is the first time anyone has been properly able to access or disseminate Hemphill’s brain-scrambling yawp.

The album’s release this month, over 70 years after its creation– as a download through the Alan Lomax Archive’s Global Jukebox imprint, or on LP via Mississippi Records– feels both long overdue and right on time.

Hemphill’s masterwork is “The Carrier Line”, a rambling, six-minute blues ballad about the owner of a local logging railroad and the engineer who ran his train too fast. “You want me to put the whole 21 verses in it?” Hemphill asks Lomax before raising his fiddle and announcing himself. “Sid Hemphill! ‘Carrier Song’ was made and played by him, his band!” (more…)

“Imaginational Anthem”

March 27, 2013

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available from Tompkins Square Records next month (from their newsletter):

IMAGINATIONAL ANTHEM VOL. 6 : ORIGINS OF AMERICAN PRIMITIVE GUITAR
Gatefold Vinyl : TSQ 2868 out April 20th (Record Store Day) Ltd 1500
CD : TSQ 2851 out April 30th

If American Primitive Guitar begins with John Fahey and the Takoma School, then the actual origins of this sound is found within this collection of fourteen classic solo guitar performances.  Recorded between 1923 to 1930, this set is the “Rosetta Stone” of style and repertoire tapped into deeply by Fahey, Basho & Rose, among many others.  Sam McGee, Riley Puckett, Bayless Rose, Sylvester Weaver, Lemuel Turner, Frank Hutchison and Davey Miller are the rural artists included in this anthology.

Each one of these showcases a particular technique and sensitivity sourced from the earlier 19th century parlor guitar tradition.  Several of these sides are reissued for their first time including Sylvester Weaver’s “Guitar Blues” which is the first solo finger picked guitar solo ever recorded.  Stunningly remastered and annotated by Christopher King.

JOE BUSSARD: “Guitar Rag / Screwdriver Slide”: 78 RPM VINYL TSQ 71136 LTD. 700 Units. Out April 20th (Record Store Day)
Famed Fonotone label pioneer and 78 collector Joe Bussard plays two tunes with a screwdriver.

CHARLIE POOLE & THE HIGHLANDERS : THE COMPLETE PARAMOUNT & BRUNSWICK RECORDINGS, 1929
Vinyl w/ Poster inside : TSQ 2882 out April 20th (Record Store Day) Ltd 1500
CD : TSQ 2875 Out April 30th

From 1926 to 1930 one of the most popular rural string bands on record was Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers.  Through their 78 RPM discs and their various performances, Charlie Poole was second only to Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers.  Poole’s uniquely syncopated three finger banjo picking style coupled with his Piedmont vocal inflections eventually colored and defined much of what we consider “old-time” music.  The classic configuration of banjo, fiddle and guitar with vocals was encouraged by the main label that  promoted Poole but he also wanted to record instrumentals featuring twin-fiddle and piano.  As renaming his group The Highlanders, Poole was able to actualize this musical vision.  This collection contains all of the sides that Poole made with Roy Harvey, Lucy Terry, and twin-fiddlers Lonnie Austin & Odell Smith.  Remastered in beautiful sound by Christopher King and with notes written by old-time musician and scholar Kinney Rorrer.

Slowtime Field Recordings

March 20, 2013

from http://slowtimerecordings.blogspot.com:

Slowtime Field Recordings – Volume 1 – Alabama

 In 1998, Matt Downer began conducting informal recording and interview sessions with the elder musicians of the Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia tri-state area. In 2011, the first set of these field recordings was released -  “Slowtime Field Recordings – Volume 1 – Alabama.”
This limited edition set  features a one hour dvd, a 20-track cd and a 16 page booklet in a handmade letterpressed package. The dvd features interview and live performance footage recorded at the homes of the musicians. The cd will feature live performances recorded at the homes of the musicians: Wayne Heard,   Jess Moore,  Willie King, and Cast King.
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There Is No Eye

March 15, 2013

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edited from Mike Yates (www.mustrad.org.uk):

Review of There Is No Eye: Music for Photographs (Smithsonian Folkways SFW CD 40091)

 
‘There is no eye: music for photographs’ is a companion CD to John Cohen’s recent book of photographs of musicians There Is No Eye (Powerhouse, 2001).  Many – though not all – of the tracks on this CD are taken from his own recordings.

Bob Dylan’s Roll On John is taken from a 1962 radio broadcast.  Officially issued here for the first time, it has, in fact, appeared on a number of underground tapes.  On first hearing I was quite surprised how well Dylan sang the song.  Subsequent hearings, however, show a shallowness when compared with the source recording of Kentucky singer Rufus Crisp (Folkways 2342).

John Cohen has spent some considerable time documenting the music of eastern Kentucky.  Mountain Music of Kentucky (Smithsonian Folkways 40077) first introduced us to the singing of Roscoe Holcomb, among others.  When Roscoe’s solo album High Lonesome Sound (Smithsonian Folkways 40104) was reissued on CD I was disappointed that his haunting Man of Constant Sorrow had been omitted.

Now we know why.  It’s here!  Thank God!  Hallelujah!  John prints a number of comments about Roscoe Holcomb’s singing from other writers.  I especially like this one: ‘A voice that bypasses the head and shoots straight for the soul’.  I have to say that it came as something of a shock to learn that Roscoe had originally learnt the song from a recording by Ralph Stanley, his delivery sounding as though he had been born with the song already implanted in his mind.

One of John Cohen’s films is of Kentucky musicians.  Also titled The High Lonesome Sound, it focuses primarily on Roscoe Holcomb, although Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys are also seen performing their version of John Henry, which is likewise included here.  It’s a high-powered performance, one which contrasts sharply with the almost sedate performance of the Baptist song Come All You Tender Hearted sung superbly by Carter Stanley.

Other mountain – Appalachian, of course – recordings include Doc Watson and his father-in-law Gaither Carlton singing and playing Hick’s Farewell, Sidna Myers playing the exquisite clawhammer tune Twin Sisters and Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard performing a tight bluegrass version of TB Blues.

The 1964 recording of Paloma Blanco, performed by a Peruvian stringband, is exquisite.  It is preceded by the New Lost City Ramblers (John Cohen, Mike Seeger and Tracy Schwartz) playing a version of Buck Creek Girls that John had previously collected from Kentucky banjo player Bill Cornett.

What strikes me is how similar the New Lost City Ramblers sound to their Peruvian musical cousins.  The tunes are, of course, dissimilar, but, the manner of playing – the philosophy behind the playing – is clearly related.


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