There Is No Eye

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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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