by Marshall Wyatt (Old Time Herald, volume 5, number 8)
Darby & Tarlton – On The Banks Of A Lonely River
Darby & Tarlton – Complete Recordings
Bear Family BCD 15764
3 CDs and booklet, 1995
Tom Darby-guitar and vocals; Jimmie Tarlton-steel guitar and vocals.
Tom Darby and Jimmie Tarlton hold a solid position in the pantheon of old-time recording artists of the 1920s and ’30s, and rightly so. Their combined voices and guitars forged a unique mixture, soulful and complex, applied to a rich diversity of songs. The two musicians achieved fame in 1927 with the release of “Columbus Stockade Blues” and “Birmingham Jail” by Columbia Records, a back-to-back hit that sold more than 200,000 units and spawned countless cover versions by other musicians.
Columbia brought the duo into the studio a total of eight times, recording a repertoire of consistent high quality but varying commercial success. By the time of their final Columbia session in 1930, the Depression had begun eroding record sales for nearly all country artists, and Darby and Tarlton were no exception. They switched allegiance to Victor Records in 1932, but their sales in the 23000 series were pitifully low.
After a final stab at recording for the American Record Corporation in 1933, the duo faded into obscurity. By the late ’30s Tom Darby had returned to his erstwhile occupation of moonshining while Tarlton did occasional radio spots sponsored by the Goo Goo Drive-In Restaurant in Columbus, Georgia. In the 1960s and ’70s, the music of Darby & Tarlton became available to a new generation of listeners on several LP anthologies and two LPs devoted entirely to their music, one on the West German Bear Family label and the other on the Old Timey label, an offshoot of Arhoolie Records of California.
A new album by the “rediscovered” Jimmie Tarlton was released by Testament Records, revealing a musician largely undiminished in his abilities. The music of Darby & Tarlton is currently available on two CD collections, the first released in 1994 by David Freeman’s County Records. Entitled On the Banks Of A Lonely River, this set contains 17 recordings gleaned from the Columbia sessions of 1927-30, with notes by collector Robert Nobley, who first located and interviewed both Darby and Tarlton in the early 1960s. The songs are sequenced to achieve variety, and the selections represent the major sources of Darby & Tarlton’s music: popular and sentimental songs dating back to the 19th century, folk songs and ballads, original lyrics set to traditional tunes, and even one authentic Hawaiian composition, “Little Ola.”
Darby & Tarlton’s reputation as blues artists is quickly confirmed by the opening track of the CD, “Lonesome Railroad,” featuring Tarlton’s articulate steel guitar and a moody hummed refrain. Next is “Frankie Dean,” a version of “Frankie and Albert,” with Darby’s soulful lead singing back edby Tarlton’s eerie wailing harmonies that imitate and extend the high notes of his guitar. “Down in Florida On a Hog” is a rollicking spoof on the Florida boom years written by Tom Darby and set to the tune of “Lonesome Road Blues,” and “Captain Won’t You Let Me Go Home” expresses a potent anti-war sentiment. (more…)