Nothing Seems Better To Me



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


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.


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