Archive for the ‘CD/LP reviews’ Category

Old Time Music of the Wild West

April 18, 2015

markrex

from http://www.cdbaby.com:

Frontier Favorites: Old-Time Music of the Wild West by Mark Gardner & Rex Rideout

Mark Gardner and Rex Rideout are today’s premier performers and interpreters of the historic music of the American West. Gardner, in addition to his music, is a prolific historian and writer focusing on the 19th-century Western experience.

From the well known fiddle tune “Arkansas Traveller” to obscure pieces such as “Capt. Jinks of the Horse Marines,” Gardner and Rideout’s “Frontier Favorites: Old-Time Music of the Wild West” offers a variety of historic popular music rarely heard on one release. A wide selection of period instruments were used in the recording: fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar, bones, and even jawbone!

Review of “Frontier Favorites” by  Jon Chandler:

With Frontier Favorites, Rideout and his musical cohort Mark Gardner have created a stylistically accurate period piece filled with 21 tunes that are historically exact, yet can be appreciated by contemporary sensibilities. Sound, composition, instrumental technique and vocal technique – each is absolutely perfect, a dramatic tribute to our frontier legacy. In essence, the songs of the American Frontier are brought to life in exactly the form they would have been heard a century and a half ago.

It is eerily accurate, performed with skill and devotion by musical historians who could easily be transported to 1850 and not be found out! Mark Gardner and Rex Rideout have done more than just record the tunes of the American Frontier. They have recreated the music through exacting research combined with impressive musical ability. What they bring to the listener is the prototype for Country, Americana, Western and Folk music; before Nashville, before Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams and Uncle Dave Macon. Its instrumentation was portable and nearly primitive, with fiddle, banjo, mandolin and bones taking center stage in an era when guitars were a rarity.


The music on this disc is precisely what your ancestors heard, what they danced to. It encompasses the songs they sang and the tunes they hummed. It’s a musical journey to the mid-19th century that transcends cultural nostalgia; this music is realistic enough in style and content to have been played and sung in its exact form on the Western frontier.
This is an essential recording for those who seek to understand the roots of America’s music. It is rollicking, it is exhilarating, and most of all, it is real.

Papa Charlie Done Sung That Song

April 16, 2015

 

PapaCharlie

from edited review by Patrick Byrket (http://blackgrooves.org):

Papa Charlie Done Sung That Song: Celebrating The Music of “Papa” Charlie Jackson (Document Records DOCD 7010)

If you have ever wondered about when and where the blues began, this new CD might give you a better idea.  Papa Charlie Done Sung That Song is a great collection of one of the first major stars in the genre of blues.

Before delving into the CD, please allow a little bit of history on Papa Charlie Jackson.  He was born William Henry Jackson in 1885 in New Orleans.

Jackson, who originally performed in minstrel and medicine shows, played a number of instruments including banjo, guitar, and the ukulele. He was also one of the first musicians during that time to have a double career in jazz and blues.  In the mid-1920s he moved to Chicago where he began “busking” at the famous Maxwell Street Market.  In 1924, he started his recording career as “Charlie Jackson” on the Paramount label and had released over 70 sides by 1936.  His career did suffer during the onset of the Great Depression, and he died in Chicago in 1938.

This two CD set, accompanied by a 16 page booklet that has a great biography of Papa Charlie by Jas Obrecht, is a wonderful tribute to one of the pioneers of the blues. The project is the brainchild of Cary Moskovitz. Moskovitz is joined by Jen Maurer, Adam Tanner, Dom Flemons, and Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton to perform new interpretations of 15 songs by Papa Charlie–accompanied with various combinations of six-string and tenor banjo, piano, guitar, bass, fiddle, and other instruments.

The second CD presents Papa Charlie Jackson’s original recordings of the same 15 songs, expertly remastered.  The contrast between the two CDs is nothing but outstanding.  To be able to hear the love and the care that contemporary musicians give to the songs is almost like being back in the 1920s, while the remastered versions of Papa Charlie’s recordings are so clear you might think he is still playing his songs on a street corner somewhere.

 

 

KENYA AND BACK AGAIN

April 15, 2015

masengo

from http://www.elijahwald.com:
KENYA AND BACK AGAIN by JEAN-BOSCO MWENDA

AND EDOUARD MASENGO

(CD available from Elijah Wald)  i

Jean-Bosco Mwenda (known later in life as Mwenda Wa Bayeke) was the
most famous and influential of the virtuoso fingerstyle guitarists who

flourished  in Southeastern Congo, near the Zambian border, in the 1950s.

His first recording, “Masanga,” was imitated throughout sub-Saharan Africa,
and he went on to make more than 200 records, both in the Congo and during
a stay of over a year inNairobi, Kenya, as well as performing in Europe and at
the Newport Folk Festival.

In the late 1950s, both Jean-Bosco and his cousin Edouard Masengo went to
Nairobi, where there was a more active music scene. Bosco got a radio job
advertising a headache remedy, Aspro, but after a little over a year he decided
to go home to Lubumbashi (at that time Elizabethville).

Masengo stayed in Nairobi, where he remained a popular performer through
the 1960s. As a result, although in the Congo he was not considered as important
a figure as Bosco or Losta Abelo, Masengo is far more popular in Kenya.

His style is lighter than Bosco’s, and his guitar work less virtuosic, but there is a
lovely lilt to his singing, and he prided himself on his varied repertoire. The interview
that finishes this CD, apparently recorded in Kenya in the early 1960s, finds him
singing such oddities as “Paper Doll” and a Swahili “Jamaica Farewell” along with
his own compositions.

The other tracks are largely Kenyan commercial recordings from 1959-1960
(I have assigned credits by ear, and welcome corrections). The last three Bosco
tracks are from a tape he had in his home, recorded I believe in the late 1970s,
and I recorded the last pre-interview Masengo track in 1990. Overall, the sound
on these recordings is much cleaner than on the Radio Zaire 78s.

To buy this CD, go here.

Ngoma: the Early Years

April 12, 2015

L2RhdGEvd2ViL250YW1hL3dlYi9udGFtYS9pbWFnZXMvc3Rvcmllcy9yZXZpZXdzL25nb20xY3YuanBnNgoma, the Early Years , 1948-1960 (Popular African Music CD):

from www.uni-hildesheim.de and www.allmusic.com:

The liner notes tell a fascinating story of a family of Greek import-export traders who started at mines in the then-Belgian Congo, and branched out to open up the Ngoma label in the mid-1940s. Ngoma may have been the very first label recording early Congolese artists, and the label’s unusual push to promote and distribute its music was apparently fundamental in Zairian/Congolese rumba becoming a pan-African sound more than a national one.

The master tapes were lost in a pressing plant fire, and a pristine vinyl collection destroyed in Kinshasa, so the songs here were transferred from old discs, and the sound quality is fairly rough and very compressed. More important, this music is very much pre-full-band-rumba-phase that took off with Franco and others in the mid-’50s, so there aren’t any flashy rave-ups.

It’s dominated by lilting acoustic guitars backing singers, with the Cuban influences pretty implicit. If anything, it sounds like a parallel to pre-electric band pop stages, like mento in Jamaica, or pre-Mighty Sparrow calypso in Trinidad (Some rural Cuban styles would probably fit the profile, too).

The disc is bookended by two versions of Congolese legend Wendo’s “Marie-Louise”: the 1948 track plaintive with guitar, the 1958 one with a full band in cha cha mode. Camille Mokoko contributes two strong songs — “Ekoko Bata” is an ad for Bata shoes — and the first taste of light electric guitar surfaces on “Yen Vavanga,” by Manuel D’Oliveira. There are faint traces of the Franco sound-to-come here, and “Njila Ya Ndolo” features Antoine Moundanda’s high-pitched voice, answering group harmonies, and introducing what sounds like a marimba. (more…)

FRED COCKERHAM CD

April 8, 2015

index

A RE-POST (WITH MORE INFO)

from countysales.com:

FRED COCKERHAM “Sunny Home In Dixie” (FC-2014, $ 13.50)
A fine old-time fiddler and fretless banjo player
in his day, Cockerham taught and encouraged many
younger musicians who have helped popularize the
Round Peak style of old time music.
Although Cockerham was past his prime when these recordings
were made, there is enough of interest in the 24 songs
and tunes to make this a welcome release for Fred’s many
friends. The tunes included make up a good part of his
repertoire, with such Round Peak favorites as TEMPY, CHILLY
WINDS, LEE COUNTY BLUES, JACK OF DIAMONDS, OLD
JIMMY SUTTON, and 8th OF JANUARY.
Cockerham was most likely in his prime in the 1940s, and
interestingly picked up some songs and tunes that were not of the
Round Peak variety, such as NATURAL BRIDGE BLUES (most
likely learned from Tommy Magness, fiddler for the very popular
Roy Hall’s band).
And, as was common among local musicians, he
borrowed from the popular Bluegrass bands of the day,
in this case HEAD OVER HEELS IN LOVE, which he
called “I’M GOING ACROSS THE OCEAN”.
The material on this disc ranges from somewhat rough and
choppy (MOLLY PUT THE KETTLE ON) to a smooth
and solid rendering of JOHN BROWN’S DREAM.
Some of the pieces were taken from live recordings.
Various musicians are heard here adding their accom-
paniment: these include Clay Buckner, Doug Hill, Mike
Fishback and Nowell Creadick.

Storyville Stringband

April 2, 2015

1010

edited review by Seva Benet (http://sevavenet.com):

The Storyville Stringband of New Orleans: My Bayou Home (cdbaby.com)

When one thinks of a string band performing jazz what will readily come to mind will probably be an ensemble modeled after a Django Reinhardt band. There is, however, an exciting string jazz ensemble that predates the Hot-clubs: the New Orleans string bands that were swinging hot when Louis Armstrong was still in short pants.

Edmond “Doc” Souchon’s band, the 6 7/8 string band of New Orleans. formed around 1911 and modeled itself after the string bands the members heard around New Orleans, especially around the Storyville district where Armstrong delivered coal, sold papers and got his first professional gig subbing for Joe “King” Oliver.

The Storyville Stringband has been picking its way into the 21st century carrying a torch that was reduced to embers after the passing of Souchon in the late 1960’s.  On their 2nd CD “My Bayou Home”, the Storyville Stringband plays all acoustic mostly vintage string instruments including a 1929 National triolian steel guitar, a 1937 Gibson L7, a 2011 Deering V-6 Senator 6 string banjo, a 1927 Vega Little wonder banjo mandolin, a 1930 Martin, 1937 National triolian tenor guitar, violin, mandolin, and upright bass.

The CD was recorded live in two sessions featuring different configurations of the above instrumentation with half the songs featuring a four piece combo of bass, rhythm guitar, mandolin or violin, and lead acoustic guitar or “Hawaiian” style slide. The other half of the CD features, instead of mandolin and violin, a mandolin banjo and/or a tenor guitar. Also, the 6 string banjo is featured on two songs.

“My Bayou Home” is a collection of mostly original tunes that delve deep into New Orleans traditional roots music. Though any one of these songs would be perfect for a complete jazz ensemble, they are presented here in two configurations of string ensembles loosely modeled after the early string bands of New Orleans (most notably the exciting 6 7/8 string band).
“My Bayou Home” includes instrumental and vocal songs tastefully influenced by Jelly Roll Morton, Ragtime (there are three rags here), traditional spiritual hymns (the George Lewis inspired title track), New Orleans string bands (with a vocal feature by the rhythm guitarist John Parker whose grandfather was the leader and founder of the 6 7/8 string band), a celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans (aptly titled “Celebrate!” and building on the popular latin cinquillo rhythm) as well as two Hawaiian numbers, including the popular Louis Armstrong hit “Song of the Islands.”

Louisiana Cajun and Creole Music: The Newport Field Recordings

March 30, 2015

louisiana-cajun-and-creole-music-the-newport-field-recordings-150x150

from http://www.offbeat.com:

Louisiana Cajun & Creole Music: The Newport Field Recordings (Rounder Records)

The Newport Folk Foundation played a pivotal role in the resurgence of Cajun-Creole music when its future looked bleak. At the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, a performance by a Cajun trio that included Dewey Balfa turned out to be a turning point when an audience of 17,000 gave them a thunderous, standing ovation. Since local popular opinion had scoffed at the idea of Cajun musicians playing out-of-state beforehand, the response came as a welcome surprise.

Balfa would go on to become a cultural spokesperson, urging his fellow Cajuns to be proud of their music. Cajun-Creole bands were booked in successive years; Adam and Cyprien Landreneau in ’65, “Bois Sec” Ardoin and Canray Fontenot in ’66 and Les Frères Balfa in ’67.

Between 1964 and 1967, the Foundation’s folklorist emeritus Ralph Rinzler visited Louisiana and made these field recordings of the aforementioned plus Austin Pitre and the Evangeline Playboys, ballad singer/fiddler Edius Naquin, and a trio consisting of Isom Fontenot, Preston Manuel and Aubrey DeVille.

Now, in its third generation of reissue, both volumes of Rounder’s historical Louisiana Cajun French Music are combined into one epic, 27-track disc. Though that fact is omitted from the physical packaging, it is mentioned in the vastly expanded liner notes, an 84-page PDF document embedded in the disc. Incidentally, be prepared to spend some time digesting the document’s articles, interviews and lyric translations.

Many of the tunes heard here are sonic signatures of their respective performers, such as the Balfa Brothers’ “Parlez-nous à boire,” Canray Fontenot’s “Bonsoir, Moreau” and Austin Pitre’s “Les flames d’Enfer.” Armed with quality equipment, Rinzler certainly captured the best of his subjects. The performances are often gut- wrenchingly powerful and highly emotive, causing them to resonate within the soul some six decades later.

Acadian All Star Special

March 27, 2015

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

Acadian All Star Special, 3-CD boxed set (LP-size) with 80-page-hardcover Book, 78 tracks, playing time 209:50.
A roots music classic from Bear Family! The dawn of modern Cajun music! Records so rare that just a few copies exist of most of them! Very few of these recordings ever reissued on 45, LP, or CD until now! Songs include the original version of ‘Diggy Liggy Lo’ plus ‘Big Texas’…the song that Hank Williams adapted into ‘Jambalaya’.
This was a set years in the making. It took ages to figure out exactly how many classic Cajun recordings had been made by legendary record producer J.D. Miller in the 1940s and ’50s, and then it took even longer to find them and painstakingly restore the sound. Finally, Cajun music expert Lyle Ferbrache tried to track down as many of the survivors and relatives as possible for the extensive book. But it was well worth the wait! The result is a classic roots music collection done as only Bear Family can do it!
From 1946 to 1959, J.D. Miller released all forms of French language records, from the beautiful fiddle and guitar records of Oran ‘Doc’Guidry and Leroy ‘Happy Fats’ Leblanc to the raucous recordings of Robert Bertrand and the Lake Charles Playboys. Many very rare recordings are reissued here for the first time, and those include the first recordings of Jimmy Newman. Also included are such rarities as ‘War Widow Waltz’ by LauraBroussard, Terry Clement’s original version of ‘DiggyLiggy Lo’, and Papa Cairo’s ‘Big Texas’, the song that Hank Williams adapted into the one Cajun song everyone knows, ‘Jambalaya’. This is a marvelous part of American music that came close to being lost for all time!

Folk and the Roots of American Music

March 24, 2015

Folk1

 Troubadours: Folk and the Roots of American Music (Bear Family, four 3-disc volumes)

Reviewed by Ed Ward (addictedtonoise.com):

As a longtime folkie, my curiosity was piqued by this latest collection, which covers the American folk scene from the earliest songwriters to pass themselves off as folk (or, to be fair, to be passed off that way by their record companies), through, well, through I’m not sure what. To call the overriding concept of this collection, if there is one,  “eccentric” would be an understatement. I was fairly close to the ‘60s folk scene in New York as a teenaged fan, and quite frankly I don’t recognize its picture here, which makes me wonder about the rest of the project.

The first three discs take us from pioneers like the Carter Family (who actually composed most of their own songs, sometimes to traditional tunes) and Lead Belly (whose famous “Good Night Irene” turned out to have been written by a professional songwriter in Cincinnati in the late 19th century) through the political folksong movement epitomized by Woody Guthrie and the Almanac Singers, who included Pete Seeger.

The story then continues through the early 1950s, the Weavers (who also included Pete Seeger), and the earliest pop-folk group, the Tarriers. The next trio surveys, on its first disc, the collegiate groups like the Kingston Trio, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and so on, and then moves on to two discs of the New York scene of the early ‘60s, via Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Patrick Sky, Tim Hardin, and others. So far, mostly so good, although I was kind of shocked that the infamous graffito on Minetta Lane (“Tim Hardin is a bad boy”) in front of which so many folkies were photographed, isn’t even alluded to.

The next three discs show the folk scare in full flower, and the early days of folk-rock. Disc 7 is devoted to three performers, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Buffy Ste-Marie. Then it’s on to a survey of Boston’s scene, and, on Disc 9, something labeled “The East Coast” that, well, starts to make less sense. The Lovin Spoonful, Tim Rose, and…Jim Croce? Melanie? (more…)

New Orleans String Bands: 1880-1949

March 19, 2015

seva-venet-revisiting--300x300

(http://www.offbeat.com):

Seva Venet, Revisiting New Orleans String Bands: 1880-1949 (Threadhead Records)

In addition to playing hundreds of gigs in his 15 years in the Crescent City, guitarist/banjoist Seva Venet has done some serious study of the early string bands of New Orleans.

Like the mandolin orchestras which used to populate the land, this is a nearly extinct genre: How often today do you hear, for instance, a quartet of mandolin, fiddle, banjo and upright bass playing ragtime and early jazz?

For this listener, the disc is most exciting when it touches on music that’s tangential to what we usually consider the prime elements that made up early jazz. These include “El Zopilote Mojado” (a Mexican Polka), which clarinetist James Evans, violinist Matt Rhody and Venet pull off with a superb brio; and the medley of “Creole Belles/Aloha Oe/My Bucket’s Got a Hole in it.”

It’s great fun to hear “Belles” played with a tango rhythm (as it undoubtedly could’ve been back in the day) and to realize that “Aloha Oe” (the “Saints” of Hawaiian music) was part of the New Orleans mix in 1884.

This disc also presents Seva’s reimagining of what a quadrille might have sounded like by an 1880s New Orleans string band—an ambitious undertaking. By taking on this project, Venet has delved into areas where not many musicologists have wandered (though at the same time he gives credit to those who’ve done important research).

Fifteen pages of notes accompany the CD, and Emilie Rhys’ beautiful translation of a photo of an old-time trio into her singular ink-drawing style is the icing on this cake.

The Mississippi

March 17, 2015

CMJN de base

from http://www.redlick.com:

THE MISSISSIPPI (2CD), Accords Croises (AC156/57)

Big Jack Johnson, Zion Harmonizers, Spider John Koerner, Leo Welch, Kermit Ruffins, L. C. Ulmer, Rebirth Brass Band, Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes, Magnolia Sisters, Little Freddie King, Como Fife And Drum Band, South Memphis String Band and more…

The Mississippi River flows from the Great Lakes region all the way to the Gulf Of Mexico and passes through a wide variety of cities, towns and rural communities, In doing so, it interacts with a whole cornucopia of people and, by extension, has influenced, and continues to influence, many musical styles and idioms.

Across this massively impressive 28 track compilation, the extent of this musical variety is given full expression. It includes representative, as well as wonderfully impressive and enjoyable, slices of many of the divergent styles that have made up American music for generations. Furthermore, the offerings are almost all of a relatively recent vintage, demonstrating that the musical traditions that evolved around the Mississippi over many years continue to be vibrant and relevant to this day. Incorporated herein are tremendous examples of delta blues, Cajun and zydeco, New Orleans jazz, gospel, folk, swamp pop and much more besides.

The set gets off to a thumping start with an electric blues number (and near-Howlin’ Wolf pastiche) about Hurricane Katrina from Big Jack Johnson And The Cornlickers. Some other corking inclusions that dedicated Red Lickers may already be familiar with are the North Mississippi gospel blues sides from both Leo Welch and Reverend John Wilkins (both courtesy of Fat Possum/Big Legal Mess albums), contemporary juke blues from Big A &  The All-Stars (from Broke & Hungry’s superb We Juke Up In Here) and the contemporary delta blues of Little Freddie King (from Messin’ Around The House on Madewright) and Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes (Broke & Hungry).

Moving beyond blues related numbers, other highlights can be found anywhere you look. Kermit Ruffins Treme Mardi Gras is an enlivening stew of New Orleans jazz, funk, rap, soul and rock and is guaranteed to get your butt rockin’, as will the Rebirth Brass Band’s more traditional, but no less lively, New Orleans street jazz on I Like It Like That. Mixing traditional folk with Cajun, Cedric Watson’s La Vieille Chanson de Mardi Gras is another up-tempo number that hits the spot every time.

On the quieter and more reflective numbers, Afrissippi’s Nduumandii/Hands Off That Girl beautifully blends Mississippi delta blues stylings with African blues patterns across six gorgeous minutes. The Jones Sisters acapella gospel  singing on Talk With Jesus and The Magnolia Sisters old-time Cajun harmonies on L’Annee de Cinquante – Sept are both subtle delights that end far too soon.

The oldest track included here, both in terms of the musical traditions and the date of recording, is the Como Fife And Drum Band’s on Punky Tony (recorded in  in 1967 and previously available on the sensational George Mitchell Collection, a 7CD set on Fat Possum). The atmosphere evoked by this spine-chilling music encourages reflections on the Mississippi’s influence on the creation and operation of the slave trade so many years ago.

And rounding off this special offering is the packaging, set within a nice hardback book format is a 28 page booklet that provides (in English and French) a short introduction to the concept of the set and short informative individual portraits of each featured artist.

Devil in the Seat

March 13, 2015

index

from http://www.hearthmusic.com:
The Foghorn Stringband
Devil in the Seat

The Foghorn Stringband is the present day shining gold standard for American string band music, with eight albums, thousands of shows, over a decade of touring under their belts, and an entirely new generation of old-time musicians following their lead. Through all this, they’ve never let the music grow cold; instead they’ve been steadily proving that American roots music is a never-ending well of inspiration.

The music of The Foghorn Stringband today, as heard on their new album Devil In The Seat, revolves around four master musicians: Portland, Oregon-based Caleb Klauder (vocals, mandolin, fiddle) and Reeb Willms (vocals, guitar), and Yukon-based Nadine Landry (vocals, upright bass) and Stephen ‘Sammy’ Lind (vocals, fiddle, banjo).

Each member of The Foghorn Stringband comes not only from a different part of the American roots music spectrum, but leads the pack in their field as well. Caleb Klauder’s wistful, keening vocals and rapid-fire mandolin picking are as influenced by Southern roots music as much as by his upbringing in Washington State.

Also from Washington, Reeb Willms grew up in the state’s Eastern farmlands singing hard-bitten honky-tonk with her family. Nadine Landry’s roots lie in the rural backroads of Acadian Québec, but she cut her teeth as one of the best bluegrass bassists in Western Canada. Minnesotan Stephen ‘Sammy’ Lind, simply put, is one of the best old-time fiddlers of his generation and has a voice that sounds like it’s coming from an old 78.

Onstage, The Foghorn Stringband gather around one microphone, balancing their music on the fly, and playing with an intense, fiery abandon. To make their new album, Devil in the Seat, the band retreated to the island paradise of Kauai, where, surrounded by coconut palms, beachside views and margaritas, they blazed through a set of old favorites and new discoveries.

The music on Devil in the Seat reaches from roots in Appalachia, like Clyde Davenport’s fiddle tune “Lost Gal,” the old square dance song “Stillhouse,” or “Mining Camp Blues” which comes from their friend Alice Gerrard, all the way to the early neon lights of Nashville (“90 Miles an Hour” from Hank Snow). It touches on old gospel (“Longing for A Home” from The Cooke Duet), newly composed fiddle tunes (“Jailbreak”), even British folk (“What Will We Do”). Throughout, the honest intensity of the music remains the trademark of The Foghorn Stringband. They see no reason to polish this music, or to deviate from the roots which first inspired them.

To Foghorn, this music is as relevant today as it was a century ago. They see themselves not as revivalists, but as curators and ardent fans, and their music is a celebration of these roots.  From their origins in Portland Oregon’s underground roots music scene in the late 90s and early 00s, when members of today’s hot bands like The Decemberists and Blind Pilot were gathering to explore the roots of American folk music, The Foghorn Stringband have spread the old-time string band gospel all over the world.

Along the way, they’ve brought in influences and inspirations from their many travels and late-night jam sessions. Old-time square dance tunes now rub shoulders with Cajun waltzes, vintage honky-tonk songs, and pre-bluegrass picking. This is the kind of bubbling musical brew which first intoxicated the American mainstream in the days when “country music” was just being invented.

Allen Bros. on JSP

March 8, 2015

By the early 1920’s, already professional musicians, they settled in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Chattanooga would feature in a number of their titles to the extent they were dubbed the Chattanooga Boys.

In Chattanooga the Allen’s got on radio once or twice a week – a bonus because radio was then the most effective form of publicity. The result was lucrative bookings as far afield as Georgia. They also performed for medicine shows – the musicians gathered a receptive audience for the show owner to exploit.

The Allen’s seem to have entered the recording studio fairly seamlessly and they had decent record sales. They recorded regularly – most years twice or more. Their sales were sufficient for them to continue to record well into the 1930’s – many musicians were discarded because of the depression.

The Allen Brothers were the first of the brothers groups that cut popular Country records in the late 1920s and 30s. The were followed by other blues-based brother acts like the Callahans, Sheltons and Delmores. The Allen Brothers created a unique sound based on fast-paced, upbeat blues and ragtime influenced songs. Their bawdy, humorous good-time lyrics, mixed with up-tempo renditions and Lee Allen’s delightful kazoo leads are reminiscent of the early jug bands. They were one of the first Country groups to base their sound on the blues and ragtime styles found in African-American groups. In fact the Allens’ second recording for Columbia was mistaken for an African-American group and release on Columbia’s “race” label, used only for African-American groups!

See also here.

Dan Gellert DVD/CD

March 6, 2015

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by Geff Crawford (http://www.cbaontheweb.org):


There’s a wonderful new CD/DVD set of Dan Gellert, old-time fiddler and banjo player, put out by the Old-Time Tiki Parlour (http://oldtimetikiparlour.com/) based in Los Angeles. Dan’s fiddle and banjo style make him one of the premier old-time musicians around. I recommend this set at the highest level, whether you are already an old-time musician or fan, or just want to experience the music played at its best. I believe that Dan’s recordings are limited besides this one—two cassette albums, one with Brad Leftwich (“A Moment In Time”) and the other with his band Shoofly (“Forked Deer”), plus a CD of Dan called “Waitin’ On The Break Of Day”.

Just to get the details out of the way, this set is an audio CD of 19 fiddle and banjo tunes and songs, and a video DVD of Dan playing the tunes for all the world to see. The price is $25, with the usual disclaimer about my having any connection or financial benefit. Here are the tunes, half on banjo and half on fiddle, and yes, I know 19 is an odd number:

John Henry / Poor Rosy / Pretty Little Shoes / The Cuckoo / Nancy Dalton / Old Jimmy Sutton / Midnight / Fall On My Knees / Black-Eyed Suzy / Eph Got A Coon / Railroad Through The Rocky Mountains / Reuben / Shaking Down The Acorns / Cora Dye / Big Tennessee / Sail Away Ladies / The Girl I Left Behind Me / I’ll Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms / Raleigh & Spencer

One might ask why one would want a video of the same tunes that are on the audio CD. My answer is a long one. First, Dan’s style is iconic, masterful, and beautiful, and therefore possibly a mystery to anyone wanting to use it improve his/her own playing. The combination of audio and video gives a potential leg up to understanding that mystery.

Second, this is a wonderfully produced, recorded, and videoed set that has excellent audio and visual quality, greater than recordings or films of past (sometimes LONG past) players available online or elsewhere. The quote from Dan about how to play like he does is, “Listen to the same dead guys that I listened to.” That’s not always easy when old technology gets in the way—this set eliminates those problems. Third, Dan’s rhythm and bluesy style come across powerfully when you can actually watch him play and watch him love the music he’s making.

Order here.

1865: Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War

March 3, 2015
Anonymous 4 & Bruce Molsky
Anonymous 4 and special guest Bruce Molsky commemorate the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War with songs that were in the air in the year 1865. It includes ballads and choruses originally intended for the stage and the parlor, as well as songs and instrumental tunes from the hills and back roads of America. They portray the highly emotional, personal stories of soldiers, widows and others who lived through one of the bloodiest wars in American history.

1865 — subtitled Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War — is the third release in what’s become an Americana triptych from Anonymous 4 (less anonymously, Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer and Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek).This time around, they’re joined by an excellent old-time musician, Bruce Molsky, who sings and plays fiddle, banjo and guitar.

It’s an organic collaboration, but the combination also evokes a specific dynamic: women tending the homefront, men on the battlefield. And as in their two previous releases of American songs, American Angels and Gloryland, the singing is gorgeous, with deep, sweet feeling. By the time “Abide with Me” and “Shall We Gather at the River” roll around at the close of this album, it’s quite possible you’ll be sniffling.

One hundred and 50 years on, there are still a few songs whose tunes and ideas remain familiar, including Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More,” published in 1854, and Robert Lowry’s 1864 “Shall We Gather at the River?” Another, the 1861 love song “Aura Lee,” found new life in another context altogether, as the melody for one of Elvis Presley’s biggest hits, “Love Me Tender.” But some have largely receded from popular memory; if some of today’s alt-folkies are looking for “new” material, there’s plenty here.

It’s nearly impossible to overstate how important singing was during the Civil War, not just for those waiting back home but to the fighting men as well. Songwriters raced to churn out thousands of new tunes and publishers created small booklets of lyrics, called “songsters,” that soldiers and civilians could carry in their pockets. Some were abolitionist songs, some were Southern and in many, words were switched out to favor one side or the other.

But as Anonymous 4 mention in their liner notes, there are many wartime accounts of opposing soldiers, in their camps pitched across a battlefield or river from each other, trading songs back and forth in succession and even raising their voices together. In the present days of deep rifts and political enmities — hard times, to be sure — it’s good to remember what has the power to bind us together.

String Band Music from the Seychelles Islands

February 28, 2015

Seychelles

from www.mustrad.org:

Seychelles 1 : Dances et Romances de l’Ancienne France (Kamtole des Isles Seychelles) (Ocora 558 534).

Who could ever have expected to discover that some of the most exciting dance music ever recorded was still being played among the Creole population of a tiny island in the Indian Ocean?

To say I was gobsmacked on first hearing is the understatement of the decade.  Only subsequent research revealed that the performers were formally constituted as the Anse Boileau Kamtole Band, and were still (twenty years ago, at any rate) performing regularly in a hotel context for tourists, in tandem with a female quadrille demonstration team.

It is hardly surprising that this fact was played down in the sleevenotes to the Ocora issue, for the music is so old at its core that such a revelation would have been simply redundant.  Fiddles, guitars, banjo-mandolin and bass drum with cymbal are overlaid with the most rhythmically-inventive triangle ever, the complex playing being all the more admirable for the performer simultaneously calling the dance instructions.

The notes suggested that in the past (the featured items were made in 1977) the ‘accordeon’ (for which read ‘melodeon’), ‘which is becoming ever rarer [on the island]’, had formerly been an integral part of the music.  Recordings made slightly later, and released on Anse Boileau Kantole Band : Seychelles – Musique Traditionelle (Palm, no number) and Souvenir of Seychelles Camtole Music Introducing The Anse Boileau Camtole Band (Dasco DAS 006), restore the instrument and what a great addition it proves to be. This is essentially archaic dance music, originally performed in England and thence throughout the European continent during the eighteenth century, filtered through the vernacular tradition and transformed beyond all recognition into something truly spectacular.

Listen here.

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Anna and Elizabeth

February 24, 2015

4PAN1TSPB

http://freedirtrecords.com:

ANNA ROBERTS-GEVALT and ELIZABETH LAPRELLE are based in Southwest Virginia. They met, coming at traditional Appalachian music from different directions.  Anna was in a touring old-time band.  Elizabeth was singing ballads in far-away states.

They came together  to create a different kind of show: one that used theater and stories to show people what they love about old tunes and ballads.  They also knew that keeping the music in the mountains–playing in their communities, playing for schools–was part of the job. With that, they set about making crankies, and learning stories, and trading songs and tunes.

Anna & Elizabeth honor Appalachian artistry and shed new light upon tradition. They have made their most compelling work to date in their new self-titled album on Free Dirt Records.

A collection of 16 traditional songs thoughtfully gathered and interpreted, the album guides listeners through the duo’s intense personal connection with each song, for an experience that is as warm and intimate as their one-of-a-kind live performances.

Soaring through rousing old-time dance numbers, haunting Appalachian ballads and lilting lullabies, Anna & Elizabeth showcases the incredible vocal capabilities of both LaPrelle and Roberts-Gevalt, and shimmers with breathtaking moments of harmony, all laid atop masterfully executed instrumentals. A record equally as invigorating as it is contemplative, Anna & Elizabeth allows for the prolific talents of these two young women to shine brighter than ever before.

Bob Walters

February 17, 2015

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from http://mofiddledance.org and http://missourifiddling.blogspot.com:

Nebraska fiddler Bob Walters is little-known outside Missouri Valley fiddle circles, but that’s about to change with the new release of eighty of Bob’s best tunes on “Bob Walters, The Champion: Classic Missouri Valley Fiddling from Dwight Lamb’s Collection.”

Long before the days of the iPod or even the portable tape recorder, Dwight Lamb was collecting recordings from Bob Walters on wire recorders, reel-to-reels, or whatever the latest technology might be. Now we’re lucky to have his amazing collection of Bob Walters recordings cherry-picked into this giant two-CD set which demonstrates both Mr. Walters’ mastery of the instrument and his breadth of repetoire. The set includes reels, waltzes, polkas and quadrilles, and even a few more rare birds, and tunes are sourced all the way from Kentucky to Canada and beyond.

Standouts include some familiar tunes like Bill Cheatum and Dusty Miller, along with contest favorites like The Inimitable Reel and Friendship Waltz, as well as less commonly known gems like the masterful Silver Lake Quadrille and The Prodigal Son. Instrumentation includes plenty of solo fiddle and guitar/fiddle, as well as Goldie Walters’ stellar pump organ playing and a few featuring Dwight playing along on his accordion.

Walters is a seminal figure in Midwestern fiddling whose influence on the tradition was considerable during the 1940 and 50s, the heyday of agricultural broadcasting in the Central states.  Walters, a Nebraska native, performed over numerous radio stations in the region and was widely admired and imitated by such well-known performers as Cyril Stinnett, Lonnie Robertson and Dwight Lamb.

The recordings, most dating to the 1950s, are from Dwight Lamb’s personal collection.  The Walters and Lamb families were close friends when Dwight was growing up and he became Walters protege, ultimately learning much of his repertoire.  If you liked the two recordings of Dwight released by Rounder (Hell Agin the Barn Door and Joseph Won A Coated Fiddle) then this album will be of great interest.  Incidentally, Mark Wilson, who produced Dwight’s CDs and many other great recordings in the North American Traditions Series, had a hand in this work.  Included on the CD is an extensive set of notes by Mark in PDF format.

Bob Walters appeared on two cassettes issued by the Missouri State Old Time Fiddlers Association and figured prominently on the U of MO Press two-record LP The Old Time Fiddlers Repertory.  All of these recordings are out-of-print, so this new release of Walters music is of particular importance.  It is worth noting that transcriptions of Walters’ music outnumber all others in R. P. Christeson’s two volumes of The Old Time Fiddlers Repertory.

To order write to Missouri Valley Music, 511 South Pleasant, Canton, South Dakota 57013 or send an email to missourivalleymusic@sio.midco.net.  The CD set costs $20, including postage.

Rediscovering Lomax in Evangeline Country – Box Set

February 8, 2015

 

from http://valcourrecords.com:

It’s Valcour’s 27th release and our most massive undertaking to date: a landmark, limited edition project to celebrate our tenth year in business along with the Alan Lomax Centennial!

Producers Joel Savoy and Josh Caffery have collaborated to create Rediscovering Lomax in Evangeline Country, a one-of-a-kind collection of recordings featuring Louisiana artists performing fresh takes on a unique series of folk songs—both French and English—archived in Louisiana in the 1930s by the late Alan and John Lomax.

The collection features 24 tracks by an incredible group of artists, including Michael Doucet, Marc Broussard, Wayne Toups, Zachary Richard, Tiffany Lamson, Steve Riley, Ann Savoy, Dirk Powell, Roddie Romero, Cedric Watson, David Greely, Joel Savoy, Kelli Jones-Savoy, Wilson Savoy, Anna Laura Edmiston, Kristi Guillory, Joshua Caffery, Claire Caffery, Barry Ancelet, Carl Brazell, Megan Brown and Aurora Nealand.

While individual EPs will become available in stores each quarter, the limited edition full box set will be available exclusively on the Valcour website through the end 2015 as long as supplies last. Purchases of the box set include printed liner notes, a collector’s box for holding the CDs and liner notes and advance access to each release before retailers and radio stations. Digital liner notes will be available for free download on this page starting on March 31st.

If you order the box set, we will ship the box, liners and the first EP, Good Men, Bad Men, to you before March 31, and you will receive a new EP in the mail each quarter during 2015 until you have the full set of four discs. Subsequent EPs will include (in no particular order) Dancing and Seduction, Love and Death and Good Women, Bad Women.

Learn more about the book that inspired this project, Joshua Caffery’s Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana: The 1934 Lomax Recordingshere.

25 Years of Real World Records

January 14, 2015

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Real World 25 (3 CD retrospective set, 28 page booklet containing the story of 25 Years of Real World Records, and a collection of Real World Tales with contributions from musicians, producers, designer and managers),  Real World Records

edited from afropop.org:

Real World Records turns 25 this year. That any record label dedicated to global sounds has survived this long is impressive; many others have gone by the wayside or changed course.  Real World 25, a threeCD compilation drawing from the label’s more than 200 releases, offers an expansive tour of this history with music ranging from Thomas Mapfumo,  Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Hukwe Zawose, Remmy Ongala. Papa Wemba, and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Looking at Real World’s African releases, a number of things stand out—starting with the label’s trademark diversity. Real World shepherded Congolese vocal star Papa Wemba through his most successful experimental phase, when he wrestled to become an artist in his own right, unconstrained by the fierce conformity of Congolese pop.

Aside from Remmy Ongala, Real World brought to light acts that few of us might ever have heard about otherwise. I’m thinking of the northern Mozambique folk-pop band Eyuphuro, or Kenya’s idiosyncratic maestro Ayub Ogada, the transfixing sonic textures of Tanzania’s Hukwe Zawose and family, or Somalia’s legendary (at least in Somalia) singer Maryam Mursal, all of whom produced classic, enduring releases for Real World.

The label has also released works by recognized African icons, including Thomas Mapfumo, the Lion of Zimbabwe. Real World’s 2006 Mapfumo release Rise Up may be the most important album of the singer’s years in exile from Zimbabwe. “What an extraordinary artist,” says Jones. “Talk about people of political significance, artists who are worldchanging—Thomas Mapfumo is exactly that.” Of course, political impact is not a requirement for Real World either—just a nice plus. And Mapfumo certainly passes the passion test.

Looking back on 25 years, Real World’s veteran director Amanda Jones sees vividly how the landscape has changed. Back then, international music releases mostly came from what she calls “library labels” like Ocora and Le Chant du Monde in France, or Lyrichord and Nonesuch Explorer in the U.S., all of which tended to focus on traditions. The idea of specializing in contemporary international music was just dawning, especially in the U.S.

Today, with the Internet and YouTube, Jones sees “a great democratizing of access to the music.” But these developments have raised a new set of problems for aspiring global artists—namely, distinguishing yourself amid a vast ocean of offerings.

SAM AMIDON

January 5, 2015

from NYTimes:

SAM AMIDON“Lily-O” (Nonesuch CD)

The final track on “Lily-O,” a hauntingly beautiful new album by the folk singer Sam Amidon, begins in resonant quiet, with the droning overtones of what sounds like a Tibetan singing bowl. Soon, you’re aware of an electric guitar blended into the mix, followed by a more clearly articulated acoustic guitar part, in lilting cadence.

Mr. Amidon’s calm, self-contained voice arrives a minute into the song — “Devotion,” an Appalachian shape-note hymn composed in 1818, based on poetry written in England a century earlier. The lyrics welcome death as a doorway, turning in earnest toward eternity, and Mr. Amidon sings them evenly, building each new phrase upon the last.

“Lily-O” is the second of Mr. Amidon’s albums released by Nonesuch, and like its predecessor “Bright Sunny South,” it consists mainly of reframed traditional songs. Mr. Amidon again plays banjo, fiddle and guitar, all with plain-spoken grace; his rhythm partners are the bassist Shahzad Ismaily and the drummer Chris Vatalaro. Mr. Amidon’s singing is unforced but sturdy, and possibly playing with your notions of guilelessness.

Whatever has happened to bring American folk song back into style, it rests on some ideal of rough-hewed authenticity. So it’s a meaningful subversion that Mr. Amidon works with the producer Valgeir Sigurdsson, who recorded the album in his studio in Iceland, and the guitarist Bill Frisell, whose vision of Americana runs heartfelt but not hidebound.

The album could easily have been credited as an Amidon-Frisell collaboration, rather than a solo album, for all of its silvery sheen and echoing filigree. But Mr. Amidon owns the liberties taken with these songs: the title track, which begins a cappella and ends in a semiabstract swirl; “Blue Mountains,” with its brittle rhythm programming; “Walkin’ Boss,” with its clatter-boom beat and pedal delay. His version of “Groundhog,” a frisky tune associated with Doc Watson, turns ruminative, almost sinister.

But another song from the Watson repertory, the elegy “Your Long Journey,” brings out the album’s most moving performance. Mr. Amidon sings in a muted voice, trusting the lyrics to make their own impression. The song arrives near the album’s close, so its heavenward glance doubles as a seamless transition.

NATE CHINEN, Oct 2014

Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer

December 28, 2014

Child-Ballads-Cover1-150x150from npr.org:

Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer, “Child Ballads” (Wilderland Records)

Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer are 30-something songwriters who have released an album of seven Child ballads. They reworked many of the songs, using the multiple versions of lyrics from the books as raw material. They felt free to create their own melodies because Francis James Child specified only words, not music.

“That’s a much different process than when you’re given a single version of a song, maybe it’s a source recording [or] some old version,” Hamer says. “But you have this one text which you have to treat like the holy grail, but with the Child ballads you have choices.”

They substituted phrases, cut verses and even made new ones up.

For us, we were able to kind of pick and choose between these different versions,” Mitchell says.

The young songwriters’ choices were guided by their desire to make the stories clear to modern American audiences. So they updated archaic phrases like “tirled at the pin,” which means knocking at the door, to something more familiar.

“Especially for our American listeners, we didn’t want to throw up a roadblock for them so that then they’re like, ‘What’s that mean?’ And they miss the whole stanza,” she says.

The most dramatic revision they made was to “Tam Lin,” an epic ballad that clocks in at nearly seven minutes and has 27 verses. It’s the story of a young maiden who gets pregnant by a woodland shape-shifter named Tam Lin. As he morphs from one fearsome creature to the next, his lover has to hold on to him until he finally becomes human.

Hamer and Mitchell decided to axe the back story about a fairy queen who kidnaps and curses Tam Lin.

“If you take that away, you perhaps increase the sort of surreal psychological subtext,” Hamer says. “Maybe you even strengthen the metaphor for endurance of love through adversity.”

“I’m sure both of us have felt the kind of trepidation that anyone rolling up their sleeves with this material feels,” Mitchell says. “Like, are we going to mess it up in some way?”

 

Going Down to Raleigh

December 26, 2014

Going Down to Raleigh: Stringband Music in the North Carolina Piedmont 1976-1998 (PineCone CD)

from http://www.pinecone.org and http://www.blueridgenow.com:

Going Down to Raleigh: Stringband Music in the North Carolina Piedmont 1976-1998 is a collection of field recordings that highlight the distinctive music traditions of the Piedmont region, including fiddlers, banjo players and other instrumentalists and singers who learned their music from family and friends. The 2-CD anthology includes full liner notes and documentary photos of the musicians. Listen to some samples from Going Down to Raleigh.

Musicians featured in the collection are: Virgil Craven, Lauchlin Shaw, A.C. Overton, Leonard Eubanks, Marvin Gaster, Beth Hartness, Rich Hartness, Jack Jones, Smith McInnis, Robert Mitchener, Fred Olson, Gerry Overton, Evelyn Shaw, Joe Thompson, Odell Thompson, Wade Yates, Glen Glass and Wayne Martin. These artists were recorded in the field by Bob Carlin, Barry Poss, and Wayne Martin.

The richness of musical traditions of the eastern and central North Carolina Piedmont comes into sharper focus when these musicians are heard together. Fiddle and banjo music have long established histories in the region, as evident from the particular tunes played, the instrumental and singing styles employed, and from the stories about where and how the pieces were learned.

None of the people  co-producer Wayne Martin recorded were playing music professionally and that was something they had no aspirations to do. Martin did what he could to get their music out to a wider audience, but convincing them it was worth the effort was a tall order.

“What I misinterpreted was their eagerness to promote themselves,” Martin says. “They weren’t at all interested. I remember finishing a recording with Lauchlin Shaw, and he was pleased with it. But it was never as important to him as it was to me to get a CD of his music out there. So not as many CDs as I’d hoped for came to pass. And this project was an attempt to bring them together in one place.”

The good part about that modesty is that it keeps the music real. Raw as it is, the music on “Going Down To Raleigh” sounds truly grounded in real life. But the downside of that modesty is that it makes the music easier to ignore. Martin can get downright evangelical about that.

“I’m not sure North Carolina knows itself that well,” he says. “I feel like more needs to be done to encourage us to embrace our own music and traditions. Not to glorify so much as know and understand. There’s a lot more to it: a historical context and economy that preceded what we have now and shaped this area. I’m doing my little part to get one piece out there so people can have more information.”

Lost Newport Treasures

December 13, 2014

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from http://www.multiculturalmedia.com:

Over 40 years since they were recorded and 20 years since the recordings surfaced, 18 historic performances from the 1968-‘70 Newport Folk Festivals are finally available. Unlike the vinyl LPs of the 1960s or even the shiny CDs of the 1990s, however, this release is entirely digital download only. Lost Newport Treasures on Multicultural Media’s Rootstock Recordings label is available as an entire album with liner notes or as individual tracks from iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, Rhapsody and many other digital download sites.

The tapes of the complete 1968-70 festivals were discovered in a closet at event producer Festival Productions’ Manhattan offices in 1990. Greenberg was hired to log and evaluate the performances by Alcazar Records, of Waterbury, Vermont, which hoped to release several Newport compilations. Alcazar went out of business, however, before the project could be completed, and the release languished until Multicultural Media, excited by the collection’s musical and historical value, acquired permission to release it.

Lost Newport Treasures includes a rare, solo, acoustic performance by Chicago electric blues “father,” Muddy Waters. Mississippi Delta bluesman, Son House, Waters’ mentor and one of the legendary artists from the 1930s rediscovered in the 1960s, also provides a track. Sleepy John Estes, Jesse Fuller, Brownie McGhee, and Sonny Terry furnish other compelling examples of acoustic, country blues and related styles.

The Cook County Singers–a large, church group from Chicago–deliver a stirring example of African American shape note singing, while an a capella hymn from Doc Watson, Fred Price, and Clint Howard’s reflects the traditional singing of many white Southern Baptist churches.

The New Lost City Ramblers’ “In the Pines” represents bluegrass as it was emerging from old-time roots to become the genre performed here by first-generation masters Don Reno, Bill Harrell and the Tennessee Cut-Ups, and Mac (“The Voice with a Heart”) Wiseman.

Congolese Mwenda Jean Bosco and Kentuckian Ike Everly (father of rock-and-rollers Don and Phil) provide examples of distinct yet related fingerpicking guitar styles, while a whaling ballad from Scottish singer and weaver Norman Kennedy exemplifies one of the important sources of American vernacular music.

A children’s song from one-time radio and vaudeville performer Sam Hinton and a topical song by Folk Revival patriarch Pete Seeger round out Lost Newport Treasures.

The Newport Folk Festival turned 50 in 2009 (with a few hiatuses) and continues to present a wide range of American music. Yet the 1960s festivals remain unsurpassed in their combination of authentic vernacular musicians, revivalists, and popularizers. Many Newport performances from the first half of the 1960s have been available on several recordings and films. But the late ‘60s have been less well-documented, until now.

The on-line release of Lost Newport Treasures provides a testimonial to the timelessness of music that continues to inspire and delight even in a medium that would be unrecognizable to many of these Newport artists.

Kasse Mady Diabate

November 22, 2014

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from http://www.theguardian.com and http://www.kassemadydiabatemusic.com:

The Manding Empire was founded in the 13th Century by the emperor Sunjata. It swept from one end of West Africa to the other, from Casamance on the Atlantic coast all the way to Burkina Faso, thousands of miles to the east. Sunjata used a hitherto unheard of weapon to bind all his disparate peoples together: music. Music became a formidable political tool and turned the hereditary Manding musicians or djelis (griots) into a powerful caste.

Today, having survived centuries of change and turmoil, that caste is still flourishing. Drawing on themes as old as the Empire itself and melodies learned in childhood, the modern griots still mediate for social order. It explains how an artist such as Kassé Mady Diabaté can rise to such a degree of excellence and become a national treasure in Mali.

 Kassé Mady was born in 1949 in the village Kéla. His aunt was the great griotte Siramori Diabaté, while his grandfather was known as ‘Jeli Fama’, which means ‘The Great Griot’, thanks to the gripping quality of his voice. When Kassé Mady was 7 years old (a significant age in Manding culture), the elders of the family, including Siramori, realised that he had inherited his grandfather’s vocal genius. They schooled him and encouraged him, until he was able to launch his own career. He would go on to play a role in the most innovative moments in Malian music over the next five decades, first in his own country and later with landmark international collaborations.

 In 1970 he became lead singer of the Orchestre Régional Super Mandé de Kangaba. Kassé Mady’s remarkable singing won the group the national Biennale music competition in the Malian capital Bamako. The festival had been set up by the government, as part of a Cultural Authenticity initiative across all of the newly independent West African states, encouraging musicians to return to their cultural heritage.

In 1988 Kassé Mady left Mali and the Badema National behind and moved to Paris, where he recorded his first solo album for the Senegalese record producer Ibrahima Sylla. He spent the next ten years in Paris, recording Fode, then Kéla Tradition, an acoustic album of Kéla jeli songs.

Moving back to Mali in the late 1990s, several collaborations followed, many of which have become landmark recordings: Songhai 2, the album he made with the flamenco group Ketama and Toumani Diabaté, and Koulandjan, on which he collaborated with Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabaté, an album which was famously cited by Barack Obama as one of his favourite albums of all time. Both of these albums were produced by Joe Boyd and released on his Hannibal label. Collaborations with Toumani Diabaté continued and he starred in Toumani’s Symmetric Orchestra and Afrocubism projects, both recorded by World Circuit.

Now he has gone back to his roots, with some crucial outside help. This is an immaculately recorded, intimate set in which Kassé Mady is backed by a classy acoustic band of n’goni, balafon and kora (from the celebrated Ballaké Sissoko). The ancient African instruments are joined, sometimes surprisingly, by delicate cello work from producer Vincent Segal.

Listen here.

IN THE FIELD BEHIND THE STAGE

November 19, 2014

from oldbluerecords.com:

IN THE FIELD BEHIND THE STAGE – RECORDINGS FROM GALAX OLD FIDDLERS CONVENTIONS – 1967 & 2010    OLD BLUE CD-708

Larry Richardon And The Blue Ridge BoysAt first glance, the cover photo may look like an RV convention. But die-hard Old-Time and Bluegrass fans know that every year in early August, the nooks and crannies of this crowded field are a hotbed of the best traditional music you’ll ever hope to hear. Though many inspirational performances occur on the stage of the Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, Virginia, some of the finest musical gems can be heard behind the stage, in this maze of RVs, cars and tarps. This CD captures some of those magical performances played in 1967 and 2010. As you listen, you’ll notice that the quality, talent and musicianship have remained consistently high throughout this 33-year span.

The Greater Galax area has long been a hot-bed of great rural music. In the 1920s musicians like Ernest Stoneman; his brother, George; the (original!) Hillbillies; Wade, Fields and Crockett Ward; Ben Jarrell; Frank and Oscar Jenkins; to name just a few, traveled afar to Richmond, Indiana, Asheville, New York, Bristol to record. Even the Carter Family falls within that 60 mile radius circle. Many of these musicians played at the early Galax Old Fiddlers Conventions and are certainly one of the reasons that those contests got off to standing room only starts.

It was just as easy in the 1960s to go to the Galax and hear equally great musicians; even sometimes the musicians who got started in1920s.  Clark Kessinger, who recorded over 70 fiddle tunes for Brunswick between 1928 and 1930, is on everyone’s top five list of old time fiddlers. In the ‘60s whenever I asked a Texas fiddler where they got their tunes, they would mention Clark. He started fiddling again in the 1960s; his band took home the blue ribbon at the 1965 Galax convention. And he got the fiddle blue ribbon in 1970 when he was 74 years old! Buddy Pendleton was second and Otis Burris, Joey’s grandfather, third.

The three 1967 fiddlers, Leake Caudle, Oscar Jenkins and John Ashby, are sadly gone. The sixteen 2010 fiddlers, Eddie Bond, Bill Birchfield, Joey Burris, Andy Edmonds, Jerry Correll, Billy Hurt Jr., Corrina Logston, T.J. Lundy, Buddy Pendleton, Adrian Shepherd-Powell, Kilby Spencer, Kirk Sutphin and Betty Vornbrock, happily continue to make powerful, compelling music.

The bands heard here are equally important.  Their drive, tightness and imagination are necessary ingredients of every winning performance. The 34 tracks on OB 708 work out to over 73 minutes of music.  34 tracks; 16 different fiddlers – ages 20s to 70-plus; 39 different musicians!  If Clark were alive today, he would say something like: “Great job!  I’d enjoy playing with – or against – any of you.”

Appreciating JSP

November 14, 2014

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

JSP records were formed in 1978 by London-based blues promoter John Stedman.  (JSP actually stands for John Stedman Promotions.)  Over the past few years they have been slowly issuing classic box sets of early 78rpm recordings, not only of blues singers, but also of old-timey and country music, jazz, music-hall, and an assortment of so-called ‘ethnic’ recordings; the latter including Jewish Klezmorin, Greek Rembetika, Cajun and both Bulgarian and Slovenian singers and musicians.

The two volume set of Uncle Dave Macon recordings are, to my mind, amazing (JSP7729 & JSP7769), especially when you consider that a similar German re-issue set can cost you in excess of £200.  Likewise the outstanding Charlie Poole set (JSP7734), which is again far cheaper than the offerings of some other re-issue companies.  Some anthologies, such as Serenade in the Mountains –Early Old-Time Music on Record (JSP7780), contain really outstanding performances, although in one or two cases, Classic Field Recordings (JSP77131) springs to mind, some of the performers are not quite in the same league.

One other performer, Riley Puckett, whose sometimes eccentric guitar runs and vocals were a feature of the Skillet Licker’s recordings, surprised me when I heard his 4 CD set – Riley Puckett: Country Music Pioneer (JSP77138).  Here was a performer, I thought, who would not have enough good material to fill 4 CDs.  Well, I was wrong and I have to say that Puckett’s singing, even on songs such as Little Brown Jug, Red Sails in the Sunset, Moonlight on the Colorado, When I Grow too Old to Dream and South of the Border seems to get better each time I play these albums.

Three of my favourite old-timey sets are Worried Blues (JSP7743), which contains all the recordings made by Frank Hutchinson and Kelly Harrell (as well as recordings by the Tenneva Ramblers and the Blue Ridge Highballers), Serenade in the Mountains (JSP7780), with recordings by the likes of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, the Nation Brothers, the Carolina Tarheels and the Floyd County Ramblers, and Mountain Frolic (JSP77100), another anthology with superb recordings by Buell Kazee, Al Hopkins, the Crockett Family and many, many more.

I should also mention Appalachian Stomp Down (JSP7761) which contains the recorded works of two of my favourite performers, G.  B.  Grayson & Henry Whitter.  Grayson, a lovely old-time fiddler, was descended from the sheriff of that name who arrested the legendary Tom Dooley.

There are solo sets by the Delmore Brothers (JSP7727, JSP7765 & JSP7784), Cliff Carlisle (JSP7732 & JSP7768), Darby & Tarlton (JSP7746), and J.E.Mainer (JSP77118 & JSP77124).  If you are looking for early bluegrass recordings then I would suggest Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys: All the Classic Releases 1937 – 49 (JSP7712), the anthology Bluegrass – Classic Recordings Remastered.  Early Cuts from 1931 – 53 (JSP7731), another anthology Authentic Rare Bluegrass – Independent Label Sides 1951 – 54 (JSP77110), which contains some wonderful tracks, and Flatt & Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers (JSP7724).  I really do like the Stanley Brothers’ early recordings, especially their version of the old English folk song Oxford City (here titled The Little Glass of Wine).

 

Jean Ritchie Tribute

November 12, 2014

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Dear Jean: Artists Celebrate Jean Ritchie (Compass Records)

edited review by Donald Teplyske (http://lonesomeroadreview.com):

Spending time with the music of Jean Ritchie quickly sends one down a rabbit hole of interpretations, variations, fragments, and re-imaginings of Scotch-Irish-English story songs. It can be fascinating to trace a tendril of one ballad to the chorus of another and the thread of a re-worded version of a third.  It can also be exhausting.

Rather more pleasant is allowing Ritchie’s unvarnished voice sweep one away to a world of Unquiet Graves, Maids Freed from Gallows, Rosewood Caskets, House Carpenters, and Orphaned Children.  Because woven into Ritchie’s ballads of courtship, disaster, crime, wonder, sentimentality, and loss are cautionary tales, tragic ballads, and ‘sparking’ songs that connect with motivated modern listeners by the very power of their antiquity and timelessness.”

While a handful of the performers on this CD have considerable name recognition, the overwhelming majority are less familiar—at least to me-—but their contributions provide substantive flesh to the beautiful skeleton that would have existed had only ‘stars’ been included. Traditional singers like Magpie (“Farewell to the Mountains,”) the incredible Molly Andrews (“Now Is the Cool of the Day”) and Elizabeth LePrelle (“Fair Nottamun Town,”) Riki Schneyer (“Blue Diamond Mines,”) and Kathy Reid-Naiman (“Pretty Betty Martin”) continue the art Ritchie has inspired for the past fifty and more years, and kick no small amount of major vocal arse in doing so. (more…)

Will Slayden

November 9, 2014

Slayden_sml

from http://archives.nodepression.com:

Will Slayden: African-American Folk Songs From West Tennessee (Tennessee Folklore Society CD)

Recorded music can serve a variety of purposes. Sometimes it entertains, sometimes it empowers, and sometimes it merely documents the weaving of a particular thread in our cultural fabric. At various points in the last half-century these songs might have done all three. Of course, musically speaking, 1952 wasn’t so long ago. And the story of how these recordings came to be is central to understanding the document itself.

In 1952, Charles McNutt was a young anthropology student in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was also a student of the banjo, and he developed an interest in the instrument’s African (and African-American) roots. Influenced by the field recordings of John and Alan Lomax, McNutt set out to locate and record an African-American banjo player near his home of Memphis, Tennessee. His journey led him to Will Slayden, a sharecropper in his 60s who had given up the instrument when he became a Christian some two decades prior. McNutt rented a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder, loaned Slayden an $8 banjo, and captured an afternoon of history using a hand-held microphone.

Slayden’s style seems distinct from other banjo players. His banjo is tuned from a half-step to a full step below open G, and his drop-thumb or “drag-thumb” technique is largely percussive. Slayden consistently emphasizes the low strings, and he rarely plays up the neck or moves into higher registers. His sound bears little in common with the clawhammer style of old-time players throughout Kentucky, Virginia and the Carolinas.

This music was obviously a product of the Delta region. (To put Slayden’s life and music in greater context, one should note that he was born more than a decade before Robert Johnson.) His repertoire included a mix of folk songs, spirituals and blues. Religious numbers such as “When The Saints Go Marching In”, “God Can Use You”, “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” and “So Glad” are only slightly more prevalent than the more worldly “Spoonful”, “Ain’t Had None In A Long Time” and “Good Thing I Got More Than One”. Also included are such standards as “John Henry” and “The Old Hen Cackled”.

This disc contains twenty selections with fully transcribed lyrics, plus comprehensive liner notes by McNutt and musicologist David Evans. Ultimately, there are very few recordings of black banjo players from any time period. That fact alone makes this collection valuable.

Classic Field Recordings on JSP

October 28, 2014

image

from redlick.com:

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

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

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

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

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

African Roots Revival

October 18, 2014

 

from http://www.muzikifan.com:

AFRICAN ROOTS REVIVAL (Rough Guide RGNet1269)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Me to the Water

October 13, 2014

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Georgia Yellow Hammers on Document

October 6, 2014

unnamedfrom http://document-records.com:

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nonesuch Records

October 3, 2014

 

edited from afropop.org:

50 Years of Nonesuch: Three Essential Albums

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

explorer-africa-zimbabwe-soul-of-mbira

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

2. Oumou Sangare: Worotan

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

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

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

Corn Dodgers and Hoss Hair Pullers

October 1, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kneelin’ Down Inside the Gate

September 29, 2014

11661-5035-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Recording Black Culture

September 26, 2014

 

from http://blackgrooves.org:

Title: John Work, III: Recording Black Culture

Label: Spring Fed Records (SFR 104)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calypso Craze (Bear Family Box Set)

September 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballads and Songs of Tradition

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

Ballads and Songs of Tradition

Various Artists

Folk-Legacy CD-125
Reviewed by Ed Cray

from http://www.acousticmusic.com:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fijian String Band music

September 15, 2014

UNES08316

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

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

 

CLASSIC AFRICAN AMERICAN SONGSTERS

September 12, 2014

470

from redlick.com:

CLASSIC AFRICAN AMERICAN SONGSTERS

Smithsonian Folkways (SFWCD40211)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mento, Not Calypso

September 9, 2014

 from http://stagoleeshop.com:

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

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

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

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

Seeger, Hartford, Grisman

September 3, 2014

from http://www.chicagoreader.com:

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

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

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

“Historical Recordings by Hugh Tracey”

September 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yodelers, Guitars, and Accordions”

August 31, 2014

kikuyu

by Elijah Wald:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Spring of Sixty-Five

August 21, 2014

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

from http://grapewrath.wordpress.com:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Been Listening All Day

August 18, 2014

 

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

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

from http://www.redlick.com:

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

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

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

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

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

The New Kings of Old Time

August 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worried Blues

July 29, 2014

MI0002325159Worried Blues (JSP 4 CD set)

edited review by Steve Leggett (allmusic.com):

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

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

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

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

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


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