Archive for the ‘CD/LP reviews’ Category

String Band Music from the Seychelles Islands

February 28, 2015



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


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


from and

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  The CD set costs $20, including postage.

Rediscovering Lomax in Evangeline Country – Box Set

February 8, 2015



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


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

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 three-CD 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 world-changing—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.


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.


Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer

December 28, 2014


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 and

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



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 and

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.


November 19, 2014



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


edited from Mike Yates (

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


Dear Jean: Artists Celebrate Jean Ritchie (Compass Records)

edited review by Donald Teplyske (

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



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




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




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 (

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


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

50 Years of Nonesuch: Three Essential Albums

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


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


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


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


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


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

from 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



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



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


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



FIJI: Songs of Love and Homeland: String Band Music (Smithsonian Folkways CD)
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
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
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.



September 12, 2014




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


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


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



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


by Elijah Wald:

Classic Kikuyu Music:  Yodelers, Guitars, and Accordions (available from

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


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


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




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…


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










from and

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.

Worried Blues

July 29, 2014

MI0002325159Worried Blues (JSP 4 CD set)

edited review by Steve Leggett (

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…)

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

July 21, 2014


by Matthew Fluharty (

On the eve of 2014, when all was calm at Art of the Rural headquarters, we received a communication from Emily Dickinson via our patented multiverse – channelling fax machine.

Though the only identifying title of the document read “298,” I sense that it was her response to the much-celebrated Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume 1 set released in late 2013 by Third Man Records (and its head, Jack White) and Revenant Records (led by Dean Blackwood). With a discussion at the New York Public Library including the set’s designers alongside Greil Marcus and Daphne Brooks, and a subsequent appearance on Charlie Rose, the music, mythos, and social history of the lives entwined in the story of Paramount Records is receiving a welcome rush of public attention.

Billed as a “wonder-cabinet,” the physical material of this set is impressive: 6 LPs, a hardback book with history and advertisements, a huge book of liner notes, a packet of ephemera, and, beneath all of that, a usb flash drive shaped like an old-time phonograph stylus assembly that contains 800 songs, even more images, and a web application with which to navigate its archive. All this is in contained in a hefty quarter-sawn oak cabinet with exquisite upholstery and metalwork.

As Grayson Currin noted in his otherwise ecstatic review in Pitchfork, the price tag ($400, which only allows Third Man/Revenenant to break even on the project), places this extraordinary work beyond the reach of the general public. Both in terms of its gorgeously tactile presentation and the depth of its contents, The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume 1 feels like an apex of the last decade’s “reissue movement” just as it underscores many of its cultural and aesthetic contradictions.

In this light, Ms. Dickinson’s communique illuminates the power and ambiguity within this set, as well as the need to come to terms with last century’s massive African-American rural diaspora — so many of whom stood before the recording machines for Paramount and its contemporaries:

Alone, I cannot be -

For Hosts – do visit me -

Recordless Company -

Who baffle Key -

They have no Robes, nor Names -

No Almanacs – nor Climes -

But general Homes

Like Gnomes -

Their Coming, may be known

By Couriers within -

Their going – is not -

                   For they’re never gone

The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records

July 20, 2014


The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume One (1917-1932)

edited from Grayson Currin (

The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records: Vol. 1 (1917–1932) arrives like a family of nested matryoshka dolls. Sent by post, the 22-pound compendium comes in a wide and thick cardboard box, with the name and address of Paramount’s parent enterprise, the long-extinct Wisconsin Chair Company, branded on the side for the sake of authentic anachronism. Inside, two-inch walls of Styrofoam and a plastic sheath protect what Third Man and Revenant Records, the project’s operational partners, call The Cabinet of Wonder.

The hinged-and-clasped oak Cabinet bears Paramount’s iconic medallion on the outside, an eagle with its wings spread and head cocked, talons locked into the label’s name and positioned in front of a grooved record that suggests a morning’s rising sun.  The set smells of varnish and glue and furniture—sweet but a little sour, too.

Clasp popped, five distinct layers of wonder follow: a batch of six marbled brown LPs housed in an old-fashioned wooden binder; a velum envelope containing replications of ephemera from the earliest days of the recording industry; a hard-cover volume that tells the story of that troublesome start and its biggest stars; and a phone-book sized catalogue that does its best to detail nearly every performer included and, for the first time ever, name each of the thousands of records Paramount released in its two-decade lifespan.

The littlest doll, wedged into a specially cut hole in the green felt platform that lines the box, is a tarnished brass flash drive, playfully dubbed a Jobber-Luxe. The contraption is crafted to look like the reproducer-and-needle assembly of one of the Wisconsin Chair Company’s Vista Talking Machines, the reason they got into the nebulous and uncertain business of selling records, anyway.

It is the ultimate fulfillment of the set’s creative anachronism. The drive contains 800 songs culled from Paramount’s first decade, a fitful and suddenly fertile period that, in many ways, shaped the landscape for the rise of a recording industry anchored on jazz, rock ’n’ roll, and country music. Taken together, these recordings are no less than one blueprint of what has become American music.

Through scrupulous research, audacious design, and ostentatious packaging, this two-volume collection’s first installment does precisely what the best box sets intend to do—add proper deference and context to music that remains vital and significant. Retailing for $400, The Rise and Fall is no doubt expensive, especially considering that there’s a second and complementary volume forthcoming. But at once, it’s a history lesson, a dance hall, a bandstand, and a smoky blues parlor, all tucked neatly into one sturdy box. This is the Cabinet of Wonder, indeed. (more…)

Sacred Harp on JSP

July 7, 2014



Dye’s Sacred Harp Singers, Denson Quartet, Fa Sol LA Singers, Roswell Sacred Harp Quartet, Allison’s Sacred Harp Singers, Elder Golden P Harris, Alabama Sacred Heart Singers, Pioneer Sacred Harp Singers, Bassett Quartet & more…


Here we have another stunning set from JSP, further broadening the range and scope of re-discovered musical gold from the first half of the twentieth century.

This time around, they again set off into more unchartered territory, with 81 tracks featuring the under-appreciated music of sacred harp. As usual, JSP co-opt knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides – on this,  the respected musicologist and archivist, Chris King, has made available his own private collection and JSP’s ‘go-to’ expert on country music, Pat Harrison, was on hand to compile and annotate the collection.

And I (for one) have been leaning heavily on the help and guidance in the notes provided to enhance my enjoyment and appreciation of this atmospheric and primitive but surprisingly accessible music. I can’t make any real claim to prior understanding of sacred harp and have been reliant on the ’I don’t know about art but I know what I like’ rule. And, boy, do I like this!

Sacred harp is a form of American music that sits somewhere between folk, old time country and gospel. As defining characteristics go, it is predominantly sung without any musical accompaniment, is protestant Christian music in content and context, and the vocal harmonies of the songs are invariably complex and multi-layered, providing a hauntingly ethereal quality.

And from start to finish, these tracks offer a spine-chilling musical experience. The notes outline which of the featured artists were most influential, popular or typical of the genre, but I have yet to de-lineate this or pick out favourites or differences – I am still in the early stages of hoovering up everything about this sensational music and indulging my latest enthusiasm.

Do yourself a favour, don’t miss this!

Mike Seeger

July 3, 2014


Mike Seeger- Mike Seeger







Mike Seeger
Vanguard 79150

reviewed by Gary von Tersch (from

The timeless, home-grown music of the late mulch-instrumentalist and folklorist Mike Seeger nostalgically evokes a bygone age of old-time rural music, early acoustic blues and pre-World War II country strains – all “performed with the affection and dedication of a true scholar,” as a reviewer for the American Record Guide put it back in 1964 on the occasion of the original Vanguard release.

This album was recorded as the influential group he had recently co-founded, the seminal old-time revival trio New Lost City Ramblers, was adjusting to the sudden departure of fellow co-founder Tom Paley (first to Sweden then to England, where he remains active at 84). Seeger effortlessly breathes new life into songs from a wide swath of styles, all emblematic of the Southern folk tradition and including the riotously satirical “We Live A Long Long Time To Get Old,” a relatively recent composition by Knoxville, Tennessee, hillbilly musician Jimmy Murphy.

Nice-to-hear-agains also include a trio sourced to the Carter Family (Seeger’s clear-voiced recall of A.P.’s inviting “Hello Stranger” and his bluesy version of “It’ll Aggravate Your Soul” and Maybelle’s English folk song-oriented “Fair And Tender Ladies”) as well as the a cappella “Young McAfee On The Gallows” (a cautionary “goodnight” ballad by Jean Ritchie), a droning dulcimer-rhythmed “Waterbound,” the banjo-driven instrumental “Leather Breeches” and an optimistically melodic redo of Grandpa Jones’ hit “I’ve Been All Around This World.” It’s great to have this classic available once more. Informative liners by both John Crosby and and D.K. Wilgus.

Take a Look At That Baby

June 30, 2014










Take A Look At That Baby

reviewed by Gary von Tersch (from

Helmed by intrepid guitarist, mandolinist, vocalist and dedicated record collector John Heneghan along with kazoo, resonator ukulele and fetching vocalist Eden Brower, the East River String Band’s delightful fourth CD release is, once again, introduced to us by some inventive cover art courtesy of the legendary cartoonist and Cheap Suit Serenader, Robert Crumb.

Crumb also adds his infectious fretwork to four of the fourteen traditional titles revived here, including entertaining renditions of both the James Cole String Band’s eternal question “Where You Been So Long?” and “Too Tight Rag,” originally committed to shellac in the early 1930s by a group of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky coal miners led by one Everett Eugene Hack. Other old-time influenced musicians accompanying the irrepressible Brower and Heneghan include harmonica whiz Ernesto Gomez (Brotherhood Of The Jug Band Blues), Pat Conte and Blind Uncle Otis (Massapequa Parkaneers), banjo and quills ace Dom Flemons (Carolina Chocolate Drops) and mouth-harpist Joe Bellulovich of the Otis Brothers.

Jackson Lynch of the Down Hill Strugglers also adds fiddle accents to a rousingly good-timey recall of Bo Carter’s “Baby How Can It Be.” Heneghan and company particularly shine on their blues numbers – favorites are Charley Patton’s “Pony Blues,” Tommy Johnson’s “Big Road Blues” and Skip James’ “I’m So Glad” – as well as on all-out shenanigans like “Old Jaw Bone,” “Diamond Joe” and “Got A Letter From My Darling.” It recalls the wildly energetic and appealingly eclectic music created by the Alan Wilson-led Canned Heat outfit in the 1960s, who were all record collectors as well.

“The Music of Coal”

June 24, 2014


Music Of Coal: Mining Songs From The Appalachian Coalfields (Lonesome Records & Publishing CD 071)

Hardcover Digibook (70 pages) and 2-CD Set.Incredible collection of memorabilia, photos, notes and song lyrics plus 48 haunting recordings (145:32 Min.)


The work of coal miners has long been commemorated in song, disasters have led to contemporaneous ballad type songs and personal acquaintance with victims of the industry has led to intense, heart-rending insights into the side-effects of working below ground.

Many songs have been found during song-catcher expeditions – some of those recording are found here, others have been written by those with a social conscience as a form of protest at times of strife. As well as embracing the social ramifications, political, historic and economic aspects of life in coal mining communities.

The collection is sub-titled Mining Songs From The Appalachian Coalfields and, in fact, the music chosen is pared down to music from southern Appalachia and to that by local talent. There is a mixture of styles – big band, jazz, old-time (in its various sub-sets, including string band), traditional country, bluegrass, folk, blues, boogie-woogie and choral.

The recordings themselves span a century, beginning with the opening song on the first disc – Down In A Coal Mine an excerpt from The Edison Concert Band and made in 1908. Other recordings from the early part of the last century include Mining Camp Blues by Trixie Smith (1925); He’s Only A Miner Killed In The Ground -Ted Chestnut (1928); Coal Miner’s Blues – The Carter Family (1938) and Sprinkle Coal Dust On My Grave – Orville Jenks (1940), sung to the same melody as Sunny Side Of The Mountain..

As concept albums go, this collection takes its place among the finest. Presented in a book format measuring approximately 10 inches by 6 inches, it contains two CDs with a total of 48 tracks. The book itself has an Introduction, written by producer Jack Wright, a Sanctus contributed by Archie Green, the doyen of coal mining music scholarship with his book Only A Miner, and to whom the anthology is dedicated, and Foreword by Jon Lohman of the Virginia Folklife Program. Additionally, it comprises a brief essay giving some background to the song and/or the singer, innumerable black and white photographs, most courtesy of Helen Lewis and lyrics.

Also, the book remembers that mining wasn’t an exclusively male preserve with a few brief references to the experiences of female mine workers. Of course, women were significant in holding their, often large, families together, supporting their men folk domestically as well as often championing their causes in their invariably shared tumultuous lives.

Music Of Coal is a very valuable documentation from the perspective of the workers in a treacherous industry that is nevertheless so necessary as it provides a fundamental need in all our lives. It does well to remind us of the many sacrifices that have blighted lives and the landscape in earlier times of Appalachian coal mining.


June 18, 2014
Dennis McGee: Himself  (Valcour Records) 
Review For ARSC Journal (Journal of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections) by Chris King

Few people can be justifiably regarded as both an originator of a particular style of music and also as a conveyor of an older style of folk music in its own right.  Fewer still are those who were aurally documented in the 1920s & 1930s and in the 1970s & 1980s who showed little loss of skill or recollection of repertoire.   One such artist was the unique Cajun, Dennis McGee.

Not only did McGee record from 1929 to 1934 with such artists as Amédé Ardoin, Sady Courville, Wade Fruge, and Angelas Le Jeunne, but he also later recorded two “studio” albums in 1972 and 1977 with Sady Courville for Morning Star and Swallow, respectively.   Every recording mentioned above was done either with a second fiddler and with McGee providing the vocals, or in the role of the accompanying fiddler behind an accordion player and vocalist.

This new CD, Dennis McGee – Himself, presents McGee in the role of solo fiddler, playing mostly previously unheard instrumentals without the company of a second fiddler or an accordion player. It is a revelation on par with “junking” a stack of unknown & unissued test recordings by one of the most majestic and unique fiddlers ever to draw a bow.

Since McGee was one of the earliest Cajun artists to record commercially, most musicians, collectors, and scholars regard him, along with the black accordion player, Amédé Ardoin, as the source of most traditional Cajun tunes and the techniques developed to play them; the true vine, as it were.  What has been lacking, up until the release of this material recorded in 1975 by Gérard Dôle, were recordings of McGee performing unaccompanied and, perhaps more importantly, performing the more archaic and obscure types of Cajun fiddle tunes that were popular in the 19th century.

This is essential since mazurkas, polkas, gallopades, varsoviannas,  and cotillions held a strong place in the early Cajun fiddle and dance repertoire but became less popular with the introduction of the diatonic accordion.   One of the most revealing aspects of this collection, though not explicitly stated, is that traditional Cajun fiddle music is defined more by its repertoire than by its style. (more…)

Lonesome Whistle

June 16, 2014


Lonesome Whistle – An Anthology Of American Railroad Song (4 CD Proper Box Set)


This 100 track collection celebrates the impact the railroad had on USA’s population.  The constant movement of people away and towards better or worse situations and the trains that got them there are a large part of the lyrical consciousness of all American Folk music.   In this extensive Proper Records collection we have a cross-section of genres that perfectly illustrate the impact the railways had on the movement, sound, and consciousness of musicians from all strands of the Folk music of the USA.
Before super highways and relatively cheap internal air travel, during the latter part of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th, railways – or railroads, as they say in America – were the throbbing arteries for freight and public transport across the vastness of the USA. Poor folk either watched the monsters pass them by, hammered the tracks, hopped a freebie in a cattle truck or sat in the cheap seats.

Rich folk enjoyed pampered service in swanky saloons. The toffs are not renowned for their railroad reminiscences. Poor blacks and whites, principally of the southern states, wrote and recorded about it aplenty. This 4-CD box set celebrates 100 of the most pertinent and poignant examples, from early blues and country recordings of the 1920s to rock ‘n’ roll in the 50s.

You don’t need to be a train-spotter to climb aboard this anthology; just an open ear for the noble art of storytelling, thematically linked out of different social stations and gradually evolving along the line from acoustic to electric performance. Many legendary artists are featured together with an equal number of ‘never heard of them before but now note their names’ reasons to enjoy the bittersweet romance of railroads.

Here are tales of tragedies, opportunities and loves lost or found, escapes and escapades, of famous railroad companies and forgotten locals. The better known troubadours and raconteurs include Blind Lemon Jefferson, Furry Lewis, Jimmie Rogers (The Singing Brakeman), Mississippi John Hurt, The Carter Family, Charley Patton, Bukka White, Blind Willie McTell, Walter Davis, Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Minnie, The Delmore Brothers, Meade Lux Lewis, The Monroe Brothers, Little Brother Montgomery, Robert Johnson, Sleepy John Estes, Leadbelly, Arthur Crudup, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Sonny Boy Williamson, T-Bone Walker, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Johnny Burnette’s Rock ’n’ Roll Trio.

Various Artists compilations often come across as a jumble of odds ’n’ sods if they are not coherently compiled and annotated. This one, enclosing an informative 24-page booklet, is just the ticket

Scottdale String Band

June 10, 2014


from and “Pickin’ on Peachtree: A History of Country Music in Atlanta,” Georgia by Wayne Daniel:

Scottdale String Band – “Old Folks Better Go to Bed” (Arhoolie CD 7054)

In the first golden age of country music, from the mid-1920s until the early ’30s, the Scottdale String Band held one of the leading names in OKeh Records’ catalog of Old Time Tunes. The band took its name from the cotton mill village of Scottdale, located between Decatur and Clarkston in DeKalb County, Georgia. String bands without fiddles, groups of mandolins, banjos, and guitars, in varying combinations, were quite well represented on records in those years. But the Scottdale String Band’s extensive and diverse legacy of sparkling performances ranging from ragtime tunes and popular songs to waltzes, breakdowns, and blues, sets them apart from their contemporaries.


1. Chinese Breakdown
2. Carbolic Rag
3. Carolina Glide
4. Stone Mountain Wobble
5. Southern Blues
6. Old Folks Better Go to Bed
7. My Own Iona
8. Hiawatha Breakdown
9. Scottdale Stomp
10. Silver Bell
11. In the Shade of the Parasol
12. Green Mountain Polka
13. Kohala March
14. The Moonshiners’ Waltz
15. Coughdrop Blues
16. Scottdale Highballers
17. Sitting on Top of the World
18. Down Yonder
19. Japanese Breakdown

“West Indies: An Island Carnival”

June 5, 2014


West Indies: An Island Carnival (Nonesuch 972091-2), recorded 1969-71

Reviewed by  Tracey Hughes (“Old Time Music of the Americas”):

As Daniel Sheehy writes in the notes to this CD, “In Port of Spain, Trinidad,… you can sit in a little shop owned by a Chinese eating East Indian food served by a man whose mother’s father was African, mother’s mother Indian,  father’s father Irish, and father’s mother Lebanese… The same musician…may happily whistle the latest calypso hit while on his way to a religious feast where he will sing songs in Yoruba to [African deity] Shango, after having played jigs and reels in a dance band the night before.”

The many musical influences in this collection merge seamlessly to provide a joyous introduction to traditional Caribbean music that still stands up as the best, 30 years since its initial release.  Some highlights:

From Dominica, the Jing Ping Band pounds out a polyrhythmic merengue on button accordion, tambourine, guiro (scraper), and boom boom (bamboo-cane “tuba”).  This multi-layered style of dance tune, common all over the Caribbean, is traditionally delivered without guitar or string accompaniment of any kind, drawing your ear into the complex interplay between the three rhythm instruments and the irregular bass notes of the accordion.

“Masouc” (mazurka)  is a lovely example of a Caribbean fiddle tune, played by fiddler Julius Alfred on a Saturday evening with his band in the village of Soufriere, St. Lucia. The string band consists of fiddle, guitar, cuatro (4-stringed guitar), and shak shak (metal cylinder full of pebbles).  All over the Lesser Antilles string bands play tunes originally learned at plantation owners’ festivities for quadrilles, polkas, and waltzes.

The Spiritual Baptists, or Shouters, a Trinidadian sect, use no conventional instruments, “but the congregation clap their hands, stamp their feet, strike benches and chairs and make rhythmical sounds with their voices.'”  In their beautiful hymn, “Jesus Going to Prepare a Mansion for Me,” congregants gradually leave singing behind and break into pure hocketing and other improvised spontaneous rhythmic vocal effects in a dense outpouring of communal exhuberance.

“Mr. Walker” is played by a cocoa-lute duo from Grenada.  The cocoa-lute is a musical bow, played with one end held in the mouth, and a plucked a single string.  “Good Morning, Mr. Walker” was a huge calypso hit for the legendary Trinidadian calypsonian Mighty Sparrow, and later popularized by Bahamanian guitarist Joseph Spence.  Here, played on a single-stringed African instrument, it has been reclaimed by folk tradition, and played  with enough syncopation and drive to propel a hall full of dancers.

Sheehy: “For over half a millennium, the region has been host to a continuous flow of human migration that has left in its wake a kaleidoscope of cultural hybrids,”  and some of the most infectious music you will ever hear.  This anthology, still in print, is a highly recommended introduction.

How Can I Keep From Singing?

May 28, 2014


How Can I Keep From Singing: Early American Religious Music and Song, Classic Recordings From the 1920s and 1930s: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (Yazoo 2020 and 2021)

review by Art Menius (from

In recent years a gospel or Christian music industry has emerged full blown with awards, charts, and modern marketing techniques applied to a field where every musical style can be employed for the Lord. Nonetheless, Christian music goes back for centuries with recordings from the earliest days of the phonograph. The emergence of blues, hillbilly, and ethnic music recordings after 1920 led to a flood of such recordings. How Can I Keep From Singing, a new pair of CD’s from Shanachie’s Yazoo imprint, collects and celebrates the riches of gospel music waxed during the 1920’s and 1930’s, and a treasure chest it is.

Deliciously diverse, running the full range of Christian American religious recordings for two decades during which the radio, jukeboxes, and 78 rpm records changed the shape of mass media. Most delightfully, both volumes of How Can I Keep From Singing mix equitably tracks from both white and black sacred traditions and recordings from exclusively gospel artists, including church choirs and shape note groups, and from those who performed Christian music along with hillbilly or blues. We can enjoy Uncle Dave Macon, Jaybird Coleman, Kid Smith and Norman Woodlief, Elder Golden Harris, and the Daniels-Deason Sacred Harp Singers as contemporaries. Thus these two discs provide the most panoramic overview of sacred recordings from between the World Wars yet available.

These tracks capture a time before bluegrass gospel, southern gospel, and the African-American quartets and mass choirs, much less contemporary Christian music, had emerged to dominate the field. To hear sacred harp songs as commercial releases is revelatory. Captured here are not only the roots of today’s far less diverse gospel sounds, but of much post-World War II American music as well. In singing “My Living Brother,” Ed McConnell and Family, for example, demonstrate where Woody Guthrie found the melody for “This Land Is Your Land” “Oh Death,” rendered here by the black Pace Jubilee Singers, became a Ralph Stanley classic, while the Stanley Brothers and many other bluegrass outfits have performed “Lonely Tomb,” heard here by the still active Wade Mainer.

These extraordinary recordings and those who purchase the CD’s deserve much more in the way of documentary information and interpretation. Each artist or ensemble gets only one or two sentences in the liner notes. We don’t even learn when or where or for whom these intriguing songs were recorded. In a horrible waste of space, both CD jackets contain the same scanty liner notes!

That aside, How Can I Keep From Singing are two crucial discs filled with exceptional and heart-felt music that still speaks to listeners in the 1990s. This is a rare music, sometimes from unique and nearly unique 78s, thankfully resurrected for us.

A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings

May 23, 2014


 A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings (Rounder)

reviewed by Ed Cray (from}:

Here are 30 field recordings of ballads, songs, fiddle and banjo tunes, hymns, and work songs culled from the Library of Congress’ Archive of Folk Culture by banjoist-folklorist Stephen Wade. Together they comprise a marvelous survey of American folk music.

These songs truly are old friends; some I’ve known since the late 1940s, when they first appeared on 78s released by the Library of Congress. E.C. Ball and Vera Hall, Texas Gladden and Wade Warde, Jimmie Strothers and Luther Strong, and Sonny Terry and Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, among others, bring back vivid memories of when I first heard the songs.

Wade’s CD reminds us of the gift these folks have given us, thanks to collectors who scoured the countryside between 1934 and 1946 like John Lomax, his son Alan, Herbert Halpert, George Korson and a dozen others. Their aluminum disc recordings cut on a 350-pound Presto machine inspired the first semi-pro folk singers Woody Guthrie, Huddie Ledbedder and Pete Seeger (and then, of course, the Seeger family, including mother Ruth, Pete’s half-brother Mike, and sister his Peggy). Through them, and through the ceaseless promotion of Alan Lomax especially, these recordings indirectly inspired the urban folk music revival.

On this CD, listen to Texas Gladden of Salem, Virginia (who knew some 300 songs and ballads) sing her version of The Unfortunate Rake and understand instantly where Hally Wood, and later Joan Baez, found voice.

Listen to Jimmie Strothers singing The Blood-Strained Banders, and know the debt Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind indirectly owes that convicted axe murderer.

Listen to fiddler W.H. Stepp rip his way through Bonaparte’s Retreat, borrowed note for note by Aaron Copland for the Hoedown in his ballet score Rodeo. As Wade’s liner notes remind us, “whenever Copland’s hoedown is heard — and forty concert violins and a xylophone swell in unison — a Kentucky mountain fiddler named W.H. Stepp continues to play for millions.”

Or listen to domestic worker Vera Hall, of Sumpter County, Alabama, sing Another Man Done Gone and know how simple great singing can be. Or sigh with the crystalline purity of the voice of the Indian schoolgirl, credited only as “Margaret,” singing the ineffably beautiful Creek Lullaby.

Here, too, is federal circuit court judge Learned Hand, as brilliant and well- educated a man as ever sat on the bench (his long correspondence with Supreme Court Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter is an exchange of coruscating wit and deep reflection on the law, society, and philosophy). Hand of Harvard College sings the Civil War ballad Iron Merrimac in a clear, measured voice — incidentally establishing that “the folk” are not all unlettered mountain folk.

Do not be frightened off by the label “field recording” or assume these are scratchy recordings of raw singers croaking “this here song I learned from my mother back in Ought Six.” Good reader, you do not often encounter such musical brilliance and sheer pleasure as Wade has culled for you. The recorded sound, though not high fidelity, is adequate and sometimes surprisingly good.

If there is any criticism of this CD, it is to ask why the knowledgeable Wade has selected for this “treasury” only material previously released by the Library of Congress. There are, literally, thousands of unreleased recordings in the archive deserving publication. Some of the cuts here, however, have appeared three and four times before in recordings and books. Most, I believe, are still available.

Wade’s incisive, informative liner notes are drawn from his forthcoming book “American Folk Music: A Personal Treasury from the Library of Congress.” I do not know what that explains: are the cuts here his favorites or are they the pieces that most influenced him (Wade is, after all, a performer as well as scholar)? Are they the only ones for which he had clearance? No explanation is given.

Still, the CD more than lives up to its title. This is a treasury — a collection of gems. It is also a marvelous introduction to the dominant strains of American folk music — Anglo-Irish and Southern black.

Ballads, Banjo Tunes, and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina

May 19, 2014


Bascom Lamar Lunsford: Ballads, Banjo Tunes &
Sacred Songs of
Western North Carolina

(Smithsonian Folkways CD)

reviewed by Daniel Jolley (

This is much, much more than a music CD; this is history, tradition and an echo of life as it once was. Having been born and raised in the North Carolina foothills, this music is especially significant to me.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, music was a way of life in the North Carolina mountains; thanks to Bascom Lamar Lunsford, that old way of life and culture is not completely lost to us in this modern age. Lunsford had many professions during his long life, but the music he grew up with was his passion.

He recorded many songs that would almost certainly have been completely lost to us; not only that, he described each song, talked about where he heard it, who played it, etc. He was called “the Minstrel of the Appalachians” because he collected songs from all over western North Carolina and preserved them. He played the fiddle, banjo (in two distinctive styles) and mandoline (sort of like a mandolin), and he sang, recording hundreds of the living tunes of his friends, neighbors and neighborly strangers over the years — all sorts of songs, including ballads, folk songs, gospel songs, fiddle tunes and banjo tunes. He also wrote a few songs of his own, including the classic “Old Mountain Dew.”

No American contributed more material to the Archive of Folk Song than Lunsford, and all but five of the recordings on this album come from his “memory collection” recordings made at the Library of Congress in 1949 (the “memory collection” actually consists of no less than 318 songs); the other five were recorded for Brunswick Records in 1928.

Bascom Lamar Lunsford (from liner notes):


“American Folk and Country Festival”

May 13, 2014


American Folk & Country Festival (Bear Family BCD16849):  2-CD set with 76 page hardcover book


Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau began organizing their American Blues and Jazz Festivals in 1962, bringing to Europe American blues and jazz players for a series of successful tours, and in the early spring of 1966 Lippmann and Rau switched gears a bit and brought over a package of the New Lost City Ramblers, the Stanley Brothers & the Clinch Mountain Band, Cyp Landreneau’s Cajun Band, Cousin Emmy, and Roscoe Holcomb, billing it as the American Folk and Country Music Festival.

Together, they offer a fascinating glimpse of early American music played with heart and soul. All the artists were still in peak form and gave European audiences their first taste of this side of American traditional music.

Although it was somewhat less fiscally viable than the blues and jazz fests, it was certainly a varied and rewarding show, and thankfully several of the stops were recorded, leading to this wonderful two-disc set featuring generous selections from all of the participating artists.

Among the high points are a haunting, high lonesome version by Roscoe Holcomb of “East Virginia Blues,” the New Lost City Ramblers’ take on “Coo Coo Bird” (based, obviously, on Clarence Ashley’s famous arrangement of the song), Cyp Landreneau’s bayou meets gypsy sound on “La Danse du Lac Charles,” the harmonica and banjo playing of Cousin Emmy, and the sleek yet rustic sound of the Stanley Brothers on “Riding on That Midnight Train,” which, while it is definitely bluegrass in approach, still has an old-timey string band feel to it. Lovingly assembled like all of the Bear Family’s remarkable box sets, and generously annotated, American Folk and Country Music Festival is both a valuable historical document and a fun, even revelatory, listen.

The World Is Shaking

May 3, 2014

The World Is Shaking Cubanismo From The Congo, 1954-55

“The World Is Shaking:
Cubanismo From The Congo, 1954-55″ (HJRCD40)

edited from HONEST JON’S RECORDS (

This highly recommended collection of commercial 78 RPM recordings could be subtitled instead “early acoustic guitar bands from The Congo.”  Although the bands were supposedly inspired by Cuban records, the music here is wholly African.  Five of the cuts also include a fiddle, and at least three include likembe (thumb piano).

The recordings display a euphoric explosion of creativity just a few years before The Congo’s independence from France.  The gorgeous vocal harmonies and consistent guitar virtuousity  uncover the dizzy beginnings of the golden age of African music — zinging with the social and political ferment of the independence movement and anti-colonianalism, after the Second World War — and the daredevil origins of Congolese rumba, the entire continent’s most popular music in the sixties and seventies.

The astonishing inventions of Europe and America  played an important role in the music’s development. Echoes of music exported in the slave trade came home on radios and records. Congolese musicians who strayed from the traditional realm with its plethora of lutes and likembes (thumb pianos) — all the various indigenous instruments — began to master imported guitars and horns by mimicking what they heard.

The jazz of Louis Armstrong and the ballads of European torch singers like Tino Rossi captured the imagination of the rapidly expanding working class — and then the familiar-sounding music of Latin America, in the form of the shiny shellac of HMV’s GV series of 78s (G for the English Gramophone Company; V for Victor in the US). Local musicians swapped the Spanish of the originals for Congolese languages like Lingala or Kikongo.

Listen to likembe player Boniface Koufidilia as he makes the transition from traditional to modern in the first few seconds of Bino, which then hits you with a vamping violin whilst he muses about death. Andre Denis and Albert Bongu both echo the the sounds of palm-wine guitar brought to the Belgian Congo by the coastmen. The sweet vocal harmonies of Vincent Kuli’s track were learned perhaps in a mission church. Rene Mbu’s nimble, likembe-like guitar plucking shines on Boma Limbala. Is Laurent Lomande using a banjo as a backdrop to Elisa? Aren’t those kazoos, buzzing along on Jean Mpia’s Tika?

It’s as if the musicians, fired up by the times in their zeal for experimental self-expression, tossed into a bottle some new elements and some old, some from near and some far, and then shook it hard, to see what would happen.

“Yaka Ko Tala” by Vincent Kuli, from “The World Is Shaking”:


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