“Prayers from Hell”



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.


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