The Old-Time Herald Volume 6, Number 2


Chet Atkins - Chet Atkins' Rare Performances 1955-1975
The Guitar of Chet Atkins - Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop
Bad Livers - Hogs On the Highway
Camp Creek Boys - Old-Time String Band
Bob Carlin - Learn to Play Clawhammer Banjo
Cliff Carlisle - Blues Yodeler And Steel Guitar Wizard
The Rufus Crisp Experience - Chickens Are A-Crowing
The Front Porch Strings - As You Like It
Bill Graves - Sugar In The Coffee
Algia Mae Hinton - Honey Babe: Blues, Folk Tunes and Gospel From North Carolina
The Hollow Rock String Band - Traditional Dance Tunes
Carol Elizabeth Jones and James Leva - Light Enough to Find My Way
Hubie King and Diane Jones - There Are No Rules: Old Time Banjo Songs and Tunes
Barbara Lamb and Vivian Williams - Twin Sisters
Kim and Jim Lansford - Out In The Cold World
Laurie Lewis & Tom Rozum - The Oak and The Laurel
The Mando Mafia - Mando Mafia's Mando Liniment
Marley's Ghost - Four Spacious Guys
Joe Pancerzewski - Legendary Northwest Fiddler
The Red Mountain White Trash - Fire in the Dumpster
Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin - Heart Songs: The Old Time Country Songs of Utah Phillips
Fred Stoneking - Saddle Old Spike: Fiddle Music From Missouri
Strange Creek Singers - Strange Creek Singers
Doc & Merle Watson - In Concert
Various Artists - Celtic Mouth Music
Various Artists - Close To Home
Various Artists - I Can't Be Satisfied Early American Women Blues Singers
Various Artists - The Alan Lomax Collection Sampler
Various Artists - Rural String Bands of Tennessee
Various Artists - Songs And Ballads of the Anthracite Miners
Various Artists - Southern Journey, Volume 2: Ballads and Breakdowns - Songs from the Southern Mountains
Various Artists - When I Was A Cowboy

Video Review
Chet Atkins
- Chet Atkins' Rare Performances 1955-1975
Vestapol 13027

The Guitar of Chet Atkins - Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop [GW941]

I must admit to a long-held ambivalence toward Chet Atkins and his music. On one hand, Atkins is clearly a superb guitarist, able to casually deliver complex arrangements distinguished by harmonic sophistication and melodic fidelity, in perfect time and with a tone of downhome elegance. On the other hand, his taste in material, mostly old pop tunes grown stale from overexposure, is bafflingly banal and he is responsible, as a producer, for some of the recording industry's most egregious sings against country music. Unfortunately, my first encounter with Atkins' music, an insipid disappointment of an album which I discovered in a cutout bin many years ago, has colored my perceptions of him. That all-instrumental disc featuring Atkins with Homer and Jethro, of whom I'd heard only awed rumors at the time, turned out to be one of the best examples of great musicians playing bad music I've ever heard. In fact, the only thing that makes me think the musicians on that album were who they were supposed to be, and that musicians of their caliber could be responsible for such drek, was the presence of Chet Atkins.

These two videos do little to alter my opinion. The first few tunes on Chet Atkins Rare Performances 1955-1975, from a couple of country TV shows in the '50s, illustrate why so many have fallen in love with his music. The tone of Atkins' guitar is gorgeous and seductive, resembling the early electric sound of Charlie Christian with a bit of country twang added; a clear, bell-like sound warmed up with just the right amount of tube distortion and a sinuous application of the Bigsby vibrato bar. Atkins manner suggests that the has just wandered onto the set, picked up the guitar and begun to play some tune that he couldn't get out of his head. His nonchalance disguises how sophisticated his arrangements, replete with conservatory approved voice leading, really are. The bulk of the video is unfortunately taken up with a live concert in which Atkins nylon string guitar is accompanied by a string section. The medley of hits Atkins produced for other artists, in particular, would warm the walls of many an elevator. It's annoying to have to listen to such undiluted hog-slop, much less watch it being performed.

Atkins attributes his great success to having been blessed with mainstream tastes. He figures if he likes something, then great numbers of others will like it as well - a creed which should be a litmus test for anyone trying to make it big in the popular arts. A taste for the obscure or adventurous is definitely a liability in the corporate music. world. Yet this cannot really explain the existence of the huge Chet Atkins Appreciation Society or a reputation as unassailable as that of Mother Teresa. Atkins main attraction seems to be that he is a man of not inconsiderable talents who is content to simply be himself. He is not an innovator. He is rarely flashy or aggressive, yet he peppers his arrangements with the occasional flourish which implies that he could be if he wanted to be. In short, he gives the impression of being a friendly, open, and honest sort of cosmopolitan hillbilly who just enjoys playing a few tunes on the guitar, and who doesn't really care that he happens to do this better than just about anyone else. Of course, lurking behind the shy demeanor is a work ethic, stemming perhaps from an insecurity about his roots, that has undoubtedly driven his success.

The Guitar of Chet Atkins, a blessing for those who strive to emulate Atkins, is particularly instructive in showing how far Atkins has come from those early performances. He has obviously continued to push himself and has learned much from both his mentors and his prot\'f2g\'f2s. Unfortunately, the tone of his guitar has gotten worse over the years. The amplified nylon-string guitar he uses for this lesson is irritating; the bass strings occasionally sound like a synthesizer's version of acoustic guitar tone. Atkins' low-key, aw-shucks attitude, while charming, manages to keep him from going in to much depth, here. After first playing each tune, he goes through the piece slowly, calling out the chords and occasionally pointing out some small thing like an intro or variation. Here and there he lingers over a specific technique, like his fabled use of harmonics, but does a poor job of explaining exactly what he is doing. The tablature supplied with the video will help guitarists sort out exactly how those sounds are being produced, but Atkins never touches on why he has chosen one chord voicing, single-note run, or technique over another. With practice, the avid student will be able to play these pieces exactly like Atkins, without gaining any insights into the musical thought processes that created the arrangements. The material is once again mostly jazz and popular standards. There is little here indicating Atkins' roots in the hills of east Tennessee, but apparently he prefers it that way. And who can argue with the man Merle Travis called "the greatest guitar player that has ever been on this earth"?

Scott Nygaard

Back to Top

Bad Livers - Hogs On the Highway
Sugar Hill SHCD-3862

Danny Barnes-banjos, acoustic guitar, resonator guitar, mandolin, harmonica, percussion, lead vocals; Mark Rubin-string bass, tuba, vocals; Ralph White III-fiddle, button accordion, mbira; Bob Grant-mandolin, acoustic guitar; with guest artists Erik Hokkanen-fiddle; Steve James-mandolin; Toby Torres-bajo sexto.

Hogs on the Highway/Lathe Crick/Counting the Crossties/Shufflin' to Memphis/Dallas, Texas/Corn Liqour (sic) Made a Fool Out of Me/Saludamas a Tejas/The National Blues/Mr. Modal/My Old Man/Cluck Old Hen/News Not the Weather/Falling Down the Stairs (With a Pistol In My Hand)/plus two unidentified cuts.

The Bad Livers is not an easy band to categorize-which has resulted in some pretty silly descriptions of it such as "punk bluegrass" and "a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Ralph Stanley." It is nothing of the sort. The Bad Livers are outstanding musicians who use American folk and traditional music as a platform on which to build the music they play. They are quite capable of playing straight bluegrass, country, or old-time string-band music, but what you often hear from them is something that doesn't sound quite like anything you have heard before-unless you've heard the Bad Livers before. Their music is based on 5-string banjo, guitar, fiddle, and bass; they may also use such instruments as tuba, accordion, percussion, and tenor banjo, and occasionally use a little electronic overdubbing. A Bad Livers program may draw from jazz, ragtime, blues, or conjunto; about the only thing predictable is good music, well performed.

Hogs on the Highway, their third album, is their best yet. I think the reason the Bad Livers are so popular with their fans is that they sound so much like they love the music they make and enjoy playing together. That makes it hard not to enjoy listening to them. The lead breaks seem to be played by musicians who want to show off the music rather than how hot they are. The fiddle playing ranges from hard-driving, old-time country to swinging, lyrical jazz. There is some fine flatpicking guitar, and from time to time, Mark Rubin sets aside his big bass to treat us to some cheerful, galumphing tuba playing. If you like banjo music, this CD is for you. The banjo notes jump out as if they were on springs, propelled by Danny Barnes' sharp, clear, precise playing as on "Cluck Old Hen," a banjo based old-time string-band tune. "Saludamas a Tejas" is Barnes' banjo arrangement of an accordion piece. "Mr. Modal" is an old-time banjo solo that just dissolves into the next song, "My Old Man," where the banjo now serves as a backup to what is essentially a fiddle tune. Until the end, that is, when the banjo finishes the tune with an extended coda.

Most of the songs were written by Barnes, whose accomplishments as a songwriter are perhaps overshadowed by his reputation as a musician. He displays considerable skill in crafting his lyrics and is able to come up with new images or variations on old ones. Many of his songs are first person accounts of lost love or other personal struggles through almost all of which runs a current of hope mixed with sadness. He uses a few deft phrases that evoke a feeling or an atmosphere rather than tell a story. You don't really get to know the people in his songs, but you know what they are going through. It is well worth the time to listen carefully to his lyrics. Barnes also makes effective use of the tradition of accompanying sad, moving songs with bright, cheerful melodies. "News Not the Weather" is one of his best of this type. A bright, rippling banjo line floats over mandolin, guitar, and bass accompaniment to lyrics that tell of an old love grown cold. Not all of his songs are sad, however; the title song is simply a delightful bit of word play. "Falling Down the Stairs (. . .)" is a long, slow, somewhat mournful song floating over some miscellaneous overdubbed background noise. It is six minutes long, and is one of the experimental numbers that the Bad Livers do from time to time. In the past, I have found them interesting, but they haven't held up to repeated listening.

After the final identified cut on theCD, there is a 30 second pause followed by about a minute of fingerpicking on the resonator guitar which segues into a rousing bluegrass finale. On a recent World Cafe radio show, Danny Barnes identified the tune as a banjo piece he put together for his dog, Judy. It really moves. Four notes into the opening banjo lick, Mark Rubin's rock-solid bass lays down a fast moving foundation that supports brilliant solos from the banjo, then the mandolin and guitar. Then the banjo returns to close both the piece and this excellent album.

Previous Bad Livers albums have included one or two of Danny Barnes' sacred songs and I am sorry there are not any on this album. Barnes religious music expresses personal faith with great conviction; perhaps he will give us an album of his sacred songs sometime.

The sound on this album is quite good, with a warm quality. The instruments are clear and well defined. But the sound envelopes and occasionally obscures the singing. The mix would be a little more appropriate if Danny Barnes sang in a clear, high soprano instead of a warm, rich baritone. Mark Rubin has said in an interview that the overall sound of a Bad Livers recording is more important that the clarity of every word. He also mentioned the early experiences the band members had trying to understand the lyrics of the 78 rpm discs from which they learned their music. Well, maybe. A commitment to tradition that goes so far as to strive to reproduce an inadvertent side effect of primitive technology may be overdoing it just a touch. I also have a little trouble imaging those early artists wanting their fans to struggle to hear the words on their records. I admire Barnes' songwriting and would like to hear all his lyrics-especially since they are not printed in the notes.

The album notes are barely adequate; all they contain are the credits and the song titles. Even the credits aren't as informative as they might be. There are seven musicians who play on this album but we don't know who plays what on which track. This makes it hard for a reviewer to give proper credit to everyone. Hogs on the Highway is a transitional album for the Bad Livers. Ralph White has left the group and has been replaced by Bob Grant. A little more information in the notes might help us get an idea of what effect this change may have. These are minor complaints, however, when considering the overall quality of this album. From the opening banjo/fiddle notes to the final bass slap the Bad Livers show you how fine musicians who love old-time music can present it in ways both fresh and traditional. A thoroughly enjoyable album.

A. V. Shirk

Back to Top

Camp Creek Boys - Old-Time String Band
County CD 2719

Fred Cockerham-fiddle, banjo, vocal; Kyle Creek-banjo, fiddle; Ernest East-fiddle, guitar; Paul Sutphin-guitar, vocal; Ronald Collins-guitar; Verlen Clifton-mandolin; Roscoe Russell-guitar.

Fortune/Let Me Fall/Old Joe Clark/Fall On My Knees/Honeysuckle/Suzanna Gal/June Apple/Cider Mill/Fire in the Mountain/Soldier's Joy/Lonesome Road Blues/Cotton Eyed Joe/Breaking Up Christmas/Pretty Little Girl.

This CD comes 30 years after the release of County LP 709 and includes all of that album plus two additional tunes. All of the good liner notes from the original by Dave Freeman are included along with some interesting updated notes and photos by Paul Brown. Many OTH readers have the original in their collection, and I'm sure most would recommend it highly.

The full and lively sound of the Camp Creek Boys won them several prizes at area fiddlers' conventions during their active years. In fact, they often had to compete in the same band category with bluegrass bands. It is interesting to note that it was only in 1971 that the Galax convention created two separate band categories. This intense competition with bluegrass groups helped the Camp Creek Boys establish the clear, driving style which you can hear on this CD.

There are 14 selections included here and most feature the remarkable fiddling of Fred Cockerham and the distinctive clawhammer picking of Kyle Creed. "Soldier's Joy" showcases this duet especially well. Both men are rated at the top or near the top when talk turns to "favorite" old-time musicians. In addition, Cockerham and Paul Sutphin ably share the singing on several of the Galax-Mount Airy-style tunes. Also of note are the other high quality musicians: Ernest East, Verlen Clifton, Ronald Collins, and Roscoe Russell. All have made separate contributions to old-time music with such bands as the Pine Ridge Boys, Smokey Valley Boys, and the Toast String Stretchers, among others.

This is a classic recording and a must for anyone who likes old-time string-band music. The Camp Creek Boys left a rich legacy of appealing and influential music. To those of us that came to know the people behind the music, many wonderful memories remain.

Dale Morris

Back to Top

Video Review
Bob Carlin
- Learn to Play Clawhammer Banjo
Homespun Video
Vol. 1: The Basics-Homespun Video VD-CAR-BJ02
Vol. 2: Intermediate-Homespun Video VD-CAR-BJ02

Banjo player Bob Carlin needs little introduction to old-time musicians. A cheerfully eccentric figure who likes to wear bright vintage Hawaiian shirts and 1930s-style tortoise shell glasses, Bob is definitely a guy who is hard to miss at festivals and conventions. He is also seriously committed to promoting the enjoyment of old-time music and to the playing and recording of the 5-string banjo. He has a well-deserved international reputation as a fine clawhammer banjo player, recording artist, instructor, and musicologist. Through recordings such as the magnificent collection he produced of Tennessee African-American string-band musicians, Altamont: Black Stringband Music from the Library of Congress his contribution to fostering a greater understanding and appreciation of the role of the banjo in old-time music has been profound.

In the two-volume set, Learn to Play Clawhammer Banjo, Bob teaches just about everything you need to know to become a decent banjo player. Volume 1 is labeled "the basics" and Volume 2 is termed "intermediate." Techniques include the basic clawhammer motion, pull-offs, slides, hammer-ons and three tunings with the associated chord positions. That's quite a lot! Since many wonderful banjo players-Wade Ward and Carlie Marion come to mind-are musical minimalists, I could even say that there may well be more here than is necessary! At any rate, Bob is actually pretty reasonable here compared to some infamous banjo instruction books of the '60s which were so overwhelming with detail it was hard to sort the essential tunes from the variants. Bob starts with a basic skeleton of each tune and builds to greater intricacy very gradually while emphasizing that part of the fun is coming up with your own personal variants. He also emphasizes the importance of playing a lot and playing with other people. The first video has tips on selecting a banjo and comments on the banjo's African roots. It's vitally important that banjo players should never forget that the instrument is part drum! The accompanying booklets give tablature for each tune and a discography of banjo recordings that are available on CD.

One thing I especially appreciated about these video lessons is Bob's tune selection. In both videos Bob teaches a variety of techniques using time-honored, classic tunes. These are the meat and potatoes-and often the salad and dessert as well-of the repertoires of old-time musicians everywhere. The arrangements are similarly the tried and true combinations of techniques aimed at bringing out the beauty and rhythm of a piece. As the saying goes, "this music isn't good because it's traditional, it's traditional because it's good!" Volume 1 includes the basic G and C tunings and a cumulative addition of several right and left hand techniques using the tunes "Shortenin' Bread," "Cripple Creek," "Liberty," and "Soldier's Joy." Volume 2 includes more techniques plus the addition of the "modal" tuning. Tunes included are "Arkansas Traveler," "Cluck Old Hen," "The Eighth of January," and "Sally Goodin." Though beginners sometimes seem to want to learn as many tunes as possible, Bob's message is that it is wise to remember that many fine banjo players played little more than just these tunes and often with very simple technique. The idea is to master the basics and "go back to the well" often to listen to and find inspiration in the recordings of the great banjo players like Wade Ward, Glen Smith, Kyle Creed, and Tommy Jarrell. As these players show, it is certainly possible to find a lifetime's worth of music in pieces like "Cripple Creek" and "Soldier's Joy."

As skeptical as I am of technology, I have to admit that videotapes are a pretty wonderful and low-stress way of learning to play an instrument. If you miss something the first go-round, you can always stop and rewind whenever you want. Further, the Homespun videos have a nice feature that lets you see what is happening with both hands. Magnified insets showing the simultaneous close-up action of the right and left hands make it almost easier to learn by videotape than having a real human being sitting in front of you. And the real human beings who have played banjos all their lives, often at breakneck speed, naturally find it hard to slow down their playing to teach it to others. Because of the percussive nature of the instrument, it's especially hard to slow down a banjo. It gets turned into something different in the process. But here is an instructional video that distills one passionately dedicated banjo player's years of analyzing the playing of the great old-time clawhammer players-on recordings and face to face. Now there's little excuse anymore for not picking up the techniques you need to get started. So grab that banjo off the wall, pop in the video and hop to it! Hawaiian shirt s are optional.

Gail Gillespie

Back to Top

Cliff Carlisle - Blues Yodeler And Steel Guitar Wizard
Arhoolie/Folklyric CD 7039

Memphis Yodel/No Daddy Blues/Hobo Blues/Columbus Stockade Blues/Shanghai Rooster Yodel/I Don't Mind/High Steppin' Mama/It Ain't No Fault Of Mine/That Nasty Swing/Get Her By The Tail On A Down Hill Grade/My Lovin' Kathleen/A Wild Cat Woman And A Tom Cat Man/You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone/Rambling Yodeler/When The Evening Sun Goes Down/Handsome Blues/My Rockin' Mama/Pay Day Fight/My Travelin' Night/Trouble Minded Blues/Pan American Man/I'm Saving Saturday Night For You/Footprints In The Snow/Black Jack David.

If you like your hillbilly singers with attitude, this entertaining collection won't disappoint you. Cliff Carlisle, along with Gene Autry, Jimmie Davis and a number of others in the early '30s, got his start with material borrowed from and inspired by Jimmie Rodgers, who had already perfected a repertorial blend of the sentimental with rowdy songs and the blues.

Carlisle, though, stood out from other wannabes in several ways. His aggressive singing and post-Hawaiian steel guitar accompaniments made him instantly recognizable, as did his subject matter, which included hobos, outlaws and other ne'er-do-wells, combative sexuality and domestic violence. His delivery was tough, unapologetic and cheerful, often outdoing the Singing Brakeman at his own game. Cliff wrote many of his own songs and always gave a distinctive spin to those he adapted from others. "Memphis Yodel" provides an opportunity for instant comparison with the Rodgers original, recorded two years prior to the 1930 Carlisle version. Rodgers sounds quite sedate, his yodeling comfortable and formulaic when compared with Cliff's adventurous barbaric yawps.

Titles of Carlisle originals give a fair idea of what to expect: "Get Her By The Tail," "That Nasty Swing" and "Wild Cat Woman" deliver dis (or is that diss?) in generous quantities. The last colorfully depicts domestic violence Jiggs and Maggie style, with each combatant getting equally pulverized. "You'll Miss Me" is incorrectly subtitled "(Just Because)"; actually, it's a semi-original version of the 1933 Shelton Brothers original, which in turn had cheerfully appropriated the melody of the old march, "Washington and Lee Swing." The set has been assembled from collector Gene Earle's all but complete collection of Carlisle originals. The first five tracks from 1930-31 sound primitive in comparison with tracks 8 through 22 from 1936-37, which blend rowdiness with a degree of sophistication, provided in part by brother Bill Carlisle's superb flat-picked backups. The 1930-31 tracks are delightful, but Cliff was clearly still learning his instrument in the early '30s, and it served him better on the later cuts. The last two tracks, from 1939, represent further stylistic evolution though they're somewhat ginal and audacious artistry which still sounds like fun 60 years later.

Dick Spottswood

Back to Top

The Rufus Crisp Experience - Chickens Are A-Crowing
Fellside FECD 113

In This Ring Two Ladies Fair-Betty Lickens/Green Beds/Needle Case/Omie Wise/Train On the Island-June Apple/Sherman's March/Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss/Sandy River Belles/Cold Rain and Snow/Old Grey Mare/Chickens Are A-Crowing/Angeline the Baker/I'm Going to Join the Army/Sadie at the Backdoor/Cluck Old Hen/Going Over the Mountain.

What is The Rufus Crisp Experience, you ask? So did I when I received this new release. A dessert recipe of some sort? Religious conversion triggered by listening to the old banjo recordings of Rufus Crisp? No, it's actually Dave Arthur and Barry Murphy who play old-time music and only mention Crisp once in their liner notes as having recorded one of the songs. No explanation of the name choice is offered.

Dave Arthur and Barry Murphy are veterans of the British folk scene. Both grew up hanging around the same coffeehouses in London in the 1960s and being influenced then by American musicians Jack Elliott, Derroll Adams, and Peggy Seeger. Barry came to the U.S. and visited traditional players like Wade Ward and Doc Watson. He served as a "roadie" for Clarence Ashley, too! Meanwhile, Arthur was carving out a successful career performing traditional English material with his wife Toni.

Somehow Arthur and Murphy never managed to meet until a few years ago, discovering when they did meet their mutual musical influences and tastes. They commenced to play together whenever possible and this CD is the first recorded result. Banjo is apparently the special passion of these two players, though both are also proficient guitarists. All cuts on the recording feature banjo and more than half are with two banjos. Fiddle is added by Peter Cooper on most numbers, but, in general, the banjo and guitar are mixed out front so that the fiddle is often relatively buried.

It's obvious that these fellows have a deep love for old-time music. They have listened to lots of the old recordings, met some of the finest older players, as well as picking up tunes from contemporary American old-time players they've met, like Art Rosenbaum, Sara Grey, and Jeff Davis. For "Sherman's March" ("Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine") they credit Norman Blake for inspiration. And, indeed, the "parlor style" (my own appellation) of old-time music that Blake often performs is similar to the way Arthur and Murphy treat these numbers, playing them in a more mesmerizing or meditative rather than a raw, breakneck manner. There's also an English sensibility to their versions reflecting the influence of the 1960s-70s folk scene. Certainly it's heard in their singing, but also in Arthur's guitar stylings on several cuts and the fiddle intro and backup on the title tune.

There are some unusual selections here mixed in with a good dose of standard tunes like "Angeline," "Cluck Old Hen," and "Needlecase." The "Old Gray Mare" is not the common one who "ain't what she used to be," but Buell Kazee's version (also similar to Bascom Lunsford's). "Green Bed" and "Chickens Are A-Crowing" are fine songs they got from Art Rosenbaum.

For most old-time listeners I would say this is a pleasant "experience," but it's not an essential recording. I do think it's interesting and encouraging to hear what these players do with American old-time songs, to know that the music is alive in England, and to think that they will be winning new enthusiasts for the music over there.

To order: Dave Arthur, 60 Claremont Rd., Tunbridge Wells, Kent TM1 1TF, England.

Bob Bovee

Back to Top

The Front Porch Strings - As You Like It (cassette)

Harriette Andrews-Appalachian dulcimer; Rick Bafford-guitar, bass; Veda Bafford-fiddle, bowed bass; Sarah Borders-hammered dulcimer, appalachian dulcimer; Mary Umbarger-autoharp, cat's paws, bodhran.

Suzannah, Cindy, Ragtime Annie/Southwind/Morpeth Rant/Da Slockit Licht/Flop-Eared Mule/Harper's Waltz/Keel Row, Mississippi Sawyer/Ashgrove, Amazing Grace/Whiskey Before Breakfast/Shepherd's Wife Waltz/100 Pipers, My Lily, Swallowtail Jig, Scotland the Brave/Planxty Fanny Power, Miss Rowan Davis/Captain O'Kane.

From the instrumentation and program you can easily tell what this cassette promises: a sweetly pretty mid-Atlantic melange of Celtic/British Isles and southeastern tunes rendered by a dulcimer- centered ensemble. The Front Porch Strings are the sort of band that many people would like to have play at their wedding- as part of the ceremony if not at the dance. The Strings strongest suit is the slow air, showcasing the dulcimers and rendered sonorous by the bass. They can do a nice job with O'Carolan. I can't recommend the breakdowns; frankly, the fiddling is not up to the mark and there are too many jangling strings for my taste.

To order: Mary Umbarger, 1360 Tabor Road, Harmony, NC 26834. (704) 539-5424

Allin Cottrell

Back to Top

Bill Graves - Sugar In The Coffee
Missouri State Old Time Fiddlers Association 301-CD

Bill Graves-vocal, fiddle, mountain dulcimer; Daisy Dame-vocal, guitar; Doris Graves-mountain dulcimer; Charlie Walden-occasional guitar.

Sugar In The Coffee/Marmaduke's Hornpipe/Waltz/Jesse James/One Old Indian' Two Old Squaws/Fire on the Mountain/ Brush Arbor Story/Great Judgement Morning/Got A Little Home To Go To/Lindy Long/Old Square Dance Tune/Spring Creek/Let Jesus Take Hold Of The Wheel/Cabin in Caroline/Turkey In The Straw/Log Cabin In The Lane/Jaybird/Old Tune/I'll Be With You When The Roses Bloom Again/It's A Long Way Back To Texas/You Write To Your Sweetheart And I'll Write To Mine/On My Way To The Old Home/Old Grey Mare/Liza Jane/Sugar In The Coffee/Leaning On The Everlasting Arms/Civil War Story/Paddle Your Own Canoe.

This field recording of Missouri Ozark fiddler and dulcimer player Bill Graves, 80 years old this year, reminds me a lot of the great Ken Davidson recordings of French Carpenter that came out in the '60s. Graves has a voice much like French's, and tells a story in a similar style, with a faraway look in his voice. He is more versatile that French (or at least the recorded French), and plays a powerful strum-style mountain dulcimer behind several strong vocal efforts. I particularly liked "It's A Long Way Back To Texas," and "On My Way To The Old Home," among the vocals. The brush arbor story - about what comes of fiddling in camp meeting, I guess you could say, even if you are invited to bring the Devil's instrument by the preacher himself - is a hoot.

Bill Graves' fiddling is really interesting, and reminds me in several cases of the fiddling found on the great County Mississippi Fiddling reissue albums of the '70s. There is also a hint of the Melvin Wine style here - not that Bill learned from Melvin or anything, just that there's something in the technique. Many of his tunes have well used names - "Fire on the Mountain" for example - but turn out to be wholly different melodies to my ear. And the tunes often consist of tricky-sounding combinations of left-hand patterns and bow rolls across several strings repeated twice to make a part, which I think, if they could be observed visually, would turn out to be surprisingly economical of movement. Graves also uses a great deal of syncopation against a steady guitar strum, so that it seems the tune just can't stay on track but must jump ahead or fall behind, but it never does either. Which isn't to say that there aren't tunes with an extra two beats here and there, only that the extra beats are consistent when they occur, and don't even turn the beat around. As well as "Fire on the Mountain," I really liked "One Old Indian" (though there are a couple of word editings needed here before anyone under 80 should sing the attached vocal), and "Liza Jane," another version of what in Round Peak gets called "Suzanna Gal," with some of the same verses. "You Write To Your Sweetheart And I'll Write To Mine" is a waltz similar to one [Indiana fiddler] John Summers played. And like many fine field recordings, there are these wonderful fragments - 36 seconds of "Old Tune," 3l seconds of the lovely dulcimer piece, "Paddle Your Own Canoe."

Like several other of the MSOTFA music projects, Charlie Walden had a large hand in this one, recording and producing it, and doing the liner notes and the photos. The recording was done at Bill Graves' house in Laclede County, Missouri, July 19-21, 1995, and Doris Graves is thanked for the "delicious fried elderberry blossoms," which ought to be the name for a tune. She also does some of the dulcimer playing and sings "Leaning On The Everlasting Arms."

If you're looking for some great new and archaic tunes - ain't that old-time for you - this is a good CD to check out. If you write MSOTFA they will send you a catalog full of other great Missouri fiddlers to check out too. And if you just want to fill your house with the bouquet of a summer day at the old home place, well, this CD will work fine for that, too.

To Order: Missouri State Old Time Fiddlers Association, PO Box 7423, Columbia, MO 65205

Wm. N. Hicks

Back to Top

Algia Mae Hinton - Honey Babe: Blues, Folk Tunes and Gospel From North Carolina
Hin-Tone HT82929

Going Down This Road/Did You Get That Letter/I Got A Wife and Three Little Children/You'd Better Let That Liar Alone (Preaching)/You'd Better Let That Liar Alone/Sweet Home Chicago/All My Friends Are Gone/Cook Cornbread For Your Husband/I Want Jesus To Walk With Me/Honey Babe/Whatcha Gonna Do When Your Good Girl Turns You Down/Sweet Home/Freight Train/Step It Up and Go/Praise His Holy Name/You Don't Have To Go/When You Kill A Chicken/Shine On/Take Me Back To the Movie Star/You've Got To Move/Careless Love/Peas and Cornbread/Snap Your Fingers/Old Time Buck Dance/What A Friend We Have in Jesus/You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone

This is the first recording entirely devoted to the music of Algia Mae Hinton. It is an important, warm and personal statement, featuring just Algia Mae and her guitars, with producer Lightnin' Wells joining on harmonica for one of the 26 cuts.

Algia Mae was raised in a musical family in rural Johnston County in the eastern Piedmont region of North Carolina. She learned to buckdance as a child, and learned guitar from her mother starting at age nine. She worked as a farm laborer most of her life, beginning at a young age in the fields her parents farmed, and continuing while she raised her own seven children alone after her husband died in 1965. Algia Mae played to entertain her family and community for most of her life, only venturing to audiences outside this community beginning in 1978 with her appearance at the North Carolina Folklife Festival. In 1992 she received the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award.

This recording presents the variety of Algia Mae's music quite well. Included are some fairly standard blues tunes from the Piedmont region, including Libba Cotton's "Freight Train," "Careless Love," and Robert Johnson's familiar "Sweet Home Chicago." But many selections are from Algia Mae's family, including the title cut "Honey Babe," the first song she learned from her mother, or "Cook Cornbread For Your Husband (Ham and Biscuits for Your Outside Man)," from her aunt. A number of gospel songs, including an imitation of a holiness preacher in "You'd Better Let That Liar Alone" are given a welcome bluesy treatment.

The recording begins with one of Algia Mae's original songs, "Going Down This Road," which was written in 1985 after a fire destroyed her home. After a quick spoken introduction, the big sound of her 12-string guitar opens the song with a beautiful deep intensity. Her voice is strong and confident, swooping low at the end of the line. In a spoken narrative, she tells of finding her burning home.

Algia Mae's guitar playing shines forth on this album. Her deft picking helps provide the huge variety of moods between each song, from the cheerful Piedmont-style picking on "Step It Up and Go" to slow aching songs like "You've Got to Move." It is a deceptively simple sound, paired perfectly with a voice that can alternately growl low or sing in moving falsetto. Algia Mae's playful personality also comes through as she laughs at the fun improvisation of a folk rhyme "Peas and Cornbread." (Peas and cornbread had a fight/ Peas knocked the cornbread out of sight.) Included also is an audio version of her signature buck dance, which alternates wonderfully with the guitar.

Throughout the recording, Algia Mae gives short spoken introductions or commentary on the songs: some are a bit too short and hard to understand. One or two songs also seem to ramble a bit and take awhile to get started. But this is all in keeping with the informal nature of the recording: what's most important is the inspirational glimpse we have of a remarkably resilient and gifted blues woman.

To order: 1959 Pollard Rd, Farmville NC 27828; 919-756-8849

Amy Davis

Back to Top

The Hollow Rock String Band - Traditional Dance Tunes
County 2715 CD (reissue of a 1968 LP) (32:13)

Alan Jabbour-fiddle; Bert Levy-mandolin; Bobbie Thompson-guitar; Tommy Thompson-banjo.

Kitchen girl/Clog/Waltz/Dinah/Richmond Cotillion/Hog-Eyed Man/John Brown's March ; Green Fields of America ; Hop Light Ladies/Jawbones/Betty Likens/Cabin Creek/Folding Down the Sheets/Devil on a Stump/Over the Waterfall/Fiddler's Drunk and the Fun's All Over

I've been wrestling with this review for quite a while, not knowing exactly how to approach it. The Hollow Rock SB are cultural icons to many folks in the old-time string band revival and are very important, in many ways, to the dissemination of fiddle music from the Upper South and the fervor to collect rare tunes from the elder generation of southern musicians before these gems went to the grave unlearned by the next generation. Fiddler Alan Jabbour, of course, has made his mark, as the director of the American Folklife Center since its inception in 1976. But even before that, he was the main man in the Music Division of the Library of Congress. He also has been the prime conduit for the transmission of the fiddle music of his mentor, Henry Reed, of Glen Lyn, Virginia. Tommy Thompson went on to fame as the driving force behind the old-time/vintage/pop fusion band, The Red Clay Ramblers, performing on stages all over the world. Betram Levy migrated West and eventually founded The Festival of American Fiddle in Port Townsend, Washington, all the while investigating different facets of traditional and art music on a number of instruments, including fiddle, banjo, concertina and bandoneon. Bobbie Thompson more than likely also would have had a significant impact on the old-time music world. She recorded on the first Fuzzy Mountain String Band LP, but her life ended tragically shortly thereafter in a car accident.

The Hollow Rockers, with Betram departed and Jim Watson replacing Bobbie on guitar, recorded a second LP in the '70s, on the Rounder label. This was the version of the band I first heard (I had hired them for a concert). By that time, the initial issue of this LP (originally on the Kanawha label, then reissued and soon out-of-print on the British Matchbox label) was no longer available. I think I finally tracked down a copy of this LP, mostly to be a completist. I confess to rarely listening to this LP back then. So now, fall of 1997, I am listening to the first Hollow Rock recording with new ears, so to speak.

And how does it speak to me? I am somewhat disappointed on a basic musical level. I think it has much more nostalgic value, or historic value, than musical value. Their string band music does not gel for me. I find more violinistic tendencies than fiddlistic sensibilities in Jabbour's playing. Tommy Thompson's banjo playing has not matured yet on this recording, in my opinion. Bobbie Thompson's guitar playing would grow, but was seemingly nascent, yet competent, here. I do rather enjoy Bertram's approach to mandolin playing though. He essentially is doubling the fiddle part, not ka-chunking like a bluegrasser, or rhythmically strumming like some of the golden age string band mandolinists, or noodling all over like a newgrasser. It's pleasant, and in fact was a style that I myself emulated once I heard it. I recall Chester McMillian, then with Earnest East and the Pine Ridge Boys, remarking how much he enjoyed Bertram's mandolining and how much it resembled his own playing (which is rather high praise). There is a lot of pep in their ensemble playing, a trait that I think endeared them to the old-time revival movement.

Most people I've discussed the Hollow Rock String Band with over the years have told me that they've felt the most important aspect of the band was the repertory they imparted, introducing people to the music of Henry Reed, for example. I suppose this makes them still a relevant conduit for Mr. Reed's beautiful music, because to this day none of Reed's music has ever been made available commercially. But this is a two-edged sword. For many years, it was exceedingly difficult, if not downright impossible, to hear recordings of Mr. Reed. Our only glimpse at his genius was through the interpretations of those who visited him, primarily Dr. Jabbour. Though these interpretations are interesting in and of themselves, they really do not do justice to the skills of Henry Reed. Of course it is not necessarily the nature of old-time music to be the medium to compare one interpretation of a tune to another, but in this case, for decades we could not easily hear the source material. This is also true for many other of Alan Jabbour's sources. I don't know whether this was a conscious exercise on his part , but I for one would have loved to be able to hear how the old masters played this music. I am very much interested in the variety of regional fiddling styles. With this recording, we hear all the subtleties of different fiddlers distilled through Alan's brain into his own style. It is too bad that at least some of Jabbour's field recordings were not issued. We can perhaps get a glimpse of what some of that may have sounded like by listening to the "Old Originals" LPs that came out on Rounder, culled from field recordings in Virginia and North Carolina made by Blanton Owen and Tom Carter, then two graduate students who were undoubtedly inspired by Dr. Jabbour's excursions into the field. But I am straying far afield here.

Another aspect of this CD that grates on me is its short playing time. I assume that there were no additional tracks that could be added to the frugal 32-minute playing time. But all in all, this is not a "bad" album. The playing is pleasant, and as I said above, quite invigorating. These are nice tunes, played by more-than-competent musicians. It's just that in the past 30 years, a lot of other people have learned great, obscure fiddle tunes and have put together exciting ensembles as well. I don't think this first effort by the Hollow Rock String Band holds up that well in such comparisons.

Kerry Blech

Back to Top

Carol Elizabeth Jones and James Leva - Light Enough to Find My Way
Rounder CD 0407

Someday/Cold Black Heart/I Tell You Only/The Back of Your Hand/Black as a Crow/Light Enough to Find My Way/Nothing But Gold/North Country/Smoke and Mirrors/I Wait Alone/Love Beyond/Darlin' It's Too Good To Be True.

What do you get when you put together a basis in traditional music with a willingness to try new things? When you take two great voices and blend them together? When you combine expansive poetry with the forms and shapes of old country music? When you take a voice that can sing a heart-stopping "House Carpenter" and let it loose on a more modern sound? When you take songwriters who want to say something about the contemporary world using the musical forms they were raised on? You get Carol Elizabeth Jones and James Leva, of course. With this album they make their statement as a songwriting duo, and join with other contemporary songwriters - such as Gillian Welch, Holly and Barry Tashian, and Iris Dement - who are reuniting country music with its roots and giving it new life.

The first thing you should know is that this isn't really old-time music. It's about three-fourths what you might call country, the rest what you might call singer-songwriter, with the settings and instrumentation giving an old-time flavor. if you've heard earlier recordings of the Renegades, the band that includes Jones and Leva along with Rich Stearns and June Drucker, and if you've heard the Wandering Ramblers tape (Jones with Dirk Powell, John Herrmann, June Drucker, and Jim Miller), then you've heard some of these songs before: "Someday," "Love Beyond," and "North Country." They're good songs, whatever category you put them in, and it's good to hear them again, to hear how they fit in with Jones' and Leva's other songs. This record shows that that there's more where those early good ones came from.

If you like old-time music and early country music, you'll probably like about half of the songs on the album: "Someday," "Cold Black Heart," "The Back of Your Hand," "North Country," "I Wait Alone," "And Darlin' It's Too Good to Be True." These songs have an older sound, complex ideas and emotions pressing against plain language and a I-IV-V chord structure. Along with "Someday," and "North Country," songs destined to be classics, I especially love "Cold Black Heart" - the harmony and style remind me of The Blue Sky Boys, while the lyrics seem linked to Carter Family favorites such as "Girl on the Greenbriar Shore" and "Wandering Boy." "The Back of Your Hand," a stunner of a song, carries on the Hazel Dickens tradition of singing absolutely directly about painful things, in this case, an abusive relationship, and a woman's vanished hopes. "And Darlin' It's Too Good to Be True" ends the album with a more upbeat sound ("Even in the night the light shines so bright / We'll never more be lonely or blue") that reminds me in its mood and style of the Louvin Brothers' song "I've Got Plenty of Everything."

If you are not crazy about singer-songwriter music, there are probably some songs here you won't like, as is the case with me. "Black as a Crow" should work - it's a new song in the old banjo-ballad tradition, and it's got everything else going for it too - rich accordion and bowed bass in the background, plus lyrics that fall into none of the traps so many modern lyrics fall into, such as over -sentimentality or whininess. But it still sounds too new for my taste. The other modern-sounding songs don't have this problem, since they don't seem to imitate or show derivation from a particular tradition. None of them do any of the things I hate about many newly written songs: they don't follow every convolution of an interminable personal monologue, they don't have endless and shapeless chord progressions, lines that are too long, or lyrics that should have been cut by half. They all have memorable melodies, and phrasings to match. I appreciate the way "Nothing But Gold" comments on the destructive side of the very same tradition that brought us the music we love: "We won the land with sweat and blood and gun and sword in hand / We made it pay as we wore the wilderness away." Some of the lines in "I Tell You Only" are truly great: "Like a blind man in the dark / when he opens his eyes." But the language in these songs is more distant to my ear than the plainer whittled-down-by-time language that moves me so much in music. I know that these are good songs and that this is good music, but I can't quite hear it.

However, the music on this CD is beautiful. Accompanying these songs in various combinations are Rose Sinclair on accordion, Dave Grant on bass, June Drucker on bass, Paul Kovac on mandolin, Gary Wright on electric guitar, and Spencer Lathrop on drums - yes drums, but really, it's OK, they suit the few songs where they appear. Carol Elizabeth plays her steady and clear rhythm guitar, and James Leva plays all the fiddle - very beautifully - as well as some truly fine lead guitar. Most of the arrangements are just enough and not too much. They are not crowded with too many voices or instruments. Even James's lovely fiddling, which stands on its own in old-time tunes, lyrically serves the songs here.

With this album, Jones and Leva clearly place themselves in the songwriter world, and I think they will do that world good. Many listeners, sick of music that is saccharine, overdone, and endlessly full of personal complaint, are craving exactly the true and honest new music that Jones and Leva offer. As I have said, I don't love the newer sounds on this record, but I love the whole record in general because it's got good singing and good fiddling and good songs. Carol Elizabeth Jones is truly a great singer, and, I didn't know it before, but James Leva is one too . His blend with Jones is absolutely tight, and his harmony lines follow and counter the melodies in non-obvious, non-ordinary ways - you hear nothing particularly odd on the surface but as your ear delves, it's surprised by the twists and turns the two voices take.

As an old-time crank and tradition-bound snob, I'm inclined to make clear divisions: this is old, this is new. This I like, this I don't. So I'm tempted to see this album of new music as a farewell, dividing Jones and Leva from the old music world. However, I'm beginning to think we don't need to make such divisions. Maybe it's all one music world, in which case there's no need for farewells. So instead I say welcome, welcome in all directions.

Molly Tenenbaum

Back to Top

Hubie King and Diane Jones - There Are No Rules: Old Time Banjo Songs and Tunes

Hubie King-banjo and vocals; Diane Jones-banjo and vocals; Dave Bing-fiddle and guitar; Chris King-guitar; Pete Vigour-fiddle

Rye Straw/Boll Weevil/Coal Creek March/Cold Frosty Morning/Going Down the Mobie Line/Wild Hog in the Woods/Kentucky Boot Leggers/Singing Birds/The Horny Yowe/Colored Aristocracy; Whistling Rufus/Cherry River Line/Home Sweet Home; Murrillo's Lesson/Camp Chase/Roustabout/Mulberry Gap; Rambling Hobo/Red Rocking Chair/Lost Gander/Ducks on a Pond; Yew Piney Mountain/Hogeye/Baby-O; Stillhouse/Chilly Winds/Cumberland Gap.

The workshops and classes put on by the Augusta Heritage Center at Davis and Elkins College in West Virginia have enabled musicians to meet who might not otherwise, have allowed many songs and tunes to reach the very musicians who can love them, have introduced students to teachers and teachers to students, and, in general, have stirred up a whole big lot of music. This CD is a result of and testament to Augusta's influence. Both Hubie and Diane credit Augusta's teachers-particularly Dwight Diller and Gerry Milnes-for introducing them to the music and to the older people who play it. Unsurprisingly, then, this album is predominantly West Virginia-flavored (tunes from Melvin Wine, Burl Hammons, Henry Reed, and French Carpenter), though it contains other sounds as well-Fred Cockerham's "Roustabout," a Galax-ish "Stillhouse"-and an enjoyable variety of songs, raggy tunes, parlor pieces, and big string band numbers .

I praise the process by which people connect with music and each other, and I wish to honor people's lifetime participation and pleasure in old time music; however, process, participation, and pleasure do not necessarily make for a great album of music. Certainly Diane, Hubie and the friends who appear with them here are excellent musicians, and there are many pleasing moments on the CD.

However, the album as a whole seems a bit vague. It seems like a collection of current favorite tunes, and each one played in a different configuration; except for the Augusta influence, there's little unity. If a few tunes had been eliminated or played for a shorter time, and if the remaining tunes had been arranged in more detail, the album would have been better. Unfortunately, as I know to my great regret, the music that you learned from a hair-raising field recording, or from a remembered-for-a-lifetime visit with an older person, the music that gets you high when you play it or hear it in a living room with your friends, does not always come across well on a formal CD., even though it is perfectly wonderful music. On a musical statement purposefully produced, I expect something more concise. On the other hand, maybe it is not always a CD's purpose to present a musical statement. It's probably more important in the long run to put music "on the record," so that people in other times and places can find the particular moments and phrases and moods that speak to them, and so that the record that remains is as complete as possible.

So now you probably think I'm about to say terrible things about the music, but I like most of it. I love the plunky sound of Diane's (nylon-strung?) banjo. The Scruggs-style and clawhammer banjo duet on "Going Down the Mobie Line" is lively and fun, and the song is a great one. Dave Bing and Diane play a lilty "Horny Yowe." Diane's solo of Burl Hammons's "Singing Birds" rings sweetly. Hubie does a beautiful job on several banjo "pieces": "Coal Creek March," "Home Sweet Home" "Murrillo's Lesson," and "Lost Gander." In general, the album is enjoyable to listen to, starting out with a rousing string band "Ryestraw" (nice fiddling from Pete Vigour), and continuing through many fine pieces.

Several things irritate me about this album, however: "Wild Hog in the Woods" is a fine banjo piece and a good spooky ballad, but here Diane's banjo playing is not rich enough (a single melody line with some fifth string added, but little other texture) nor is her singing subtle enough to support a listener through all the twenty or so verses. On a few of the other songs too, her singing seems to drag. I know that sometimes that pace that feels good to the singer does not coincide with the pace that works best for the song, and I think that may be be what happened here. "Coal Creek March" sounds a little too tight, a twinkling reproduction. I think it's possible to not only play so-and-so's exact wonderful version of a tune but also to give so-and-so's same finger-motions new life and feeling. As for "Camp Chase," yes, I also love both the Hammons and the Carpenter versions and would hate to have to choose, but do they really make a good medley? Medleying often takes away the integrity that each tune has when it stands alone. You can still know, love, and play both versions without jumbling them up. Also, the title of the recording, There Are No Rules, suggests that this music will be really outrageous: I expected maracas or marimbas or a horn section. Do Diane and Hubie feel like they have to defend the idea of two banjos playing together, one of them sometimes-heavenly days-in Scruggs style? But banjo duets are wonderful and should be encouraged and praised. They don't need to be defended, they just need to be let loose, all those plinky sweeps and rings, those brushes and peppery clusters.

Though the playing is good, the tunes are good, and the songs are good, there's nothing really that stands out about them when they're presented all together. The music that may really be wonderful starts to sound a little bland.

To order: 4639 Luxberry Dr., Fairfax, VA 20032.

Molly Tenenbaum

Back to Top

Barbara Lamb and Vivian Williams - Twin Sisters
Voyager CD

Barbara Lamb & Vivian Williams-fiddles; Dick Marvin-guitar; Barney Munger-banjo; Phil Williams-mandolin; Lou Harrington-bass.

Leather Britches/Spotted Pony/Tennessee Wagoner/St. Paul's Waltz/Mason's Apron/Hell Among the Yearlings/St. Anne's Reel/Twin Sisters/Gardebylaten/Forked Deer/Cuckoo's Nest/Big Sandy River/Katy Hill-Sally Johnson/Annie Laurie/Fourth of July/Sugar in the Gourd/Dry Creek Reel/Florida Blues.

Clean, strong, bright, smooth, driving-all these adjectives apply to the double fiddling of "twin sisters" Barbara Lamb and Vivian Williams, originally from the Puget Sound area. The two women are not in fact sisters, but apparently they played together a lot at the time of this recording (the CD is a digital remastering of 1974-75 sessions). Williams, who plays harmony fiddle here, was one of Lamb's first fiddle teachers. Their playing certainly meshes tightly. Williams' approach to harmony is not homogeneous, but there's a lot of parallel thirds. Able and tasteful backup is provided by members of the Seattle bluegrass band Tall Timber. If you want a benchmark, I'd say the sound reminds me of Lyman Enloe on Fiddle Tunes I Recall (County 762), backed up by Bluegrass Generation.

The play list is somewhat eclectic: old-time standards like "Leather Britches" and "Forked Deer" alongside the Scottish "Mason's Apron," the Swedish "Gardebylaten" and the French Canadian "Twin Sisters." Most of the program is made up of pieces from the South, but one does not get a feeling of a regional "grounding." These folks are skilled musicians but have not, I think it's fair to say, steeped themselves in any particular fork of the old-time river. Nonetheless, if you like high-energy twin fiddling you'll likely enjoy this CD.

To order: Voyager Recordings, 424 35th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122. (206) 323-1112

Allin Cottrell

Back to Top

Kim and Jim Lansford - Out In The Cold World
CD JL 97

Kim Lansford-guitar, vocals; Jim Lansford-guitar, violin, mandolin, banjo, vocals.

Wandering Boy (Out in the Cold World)/Little Glass of Wine/Railroad Blues/Wild Goose Chase/Let Us be Lovers Again/No Never No/Coming Up the Pike/My Old Cottage Home/Brown's Ferry Blues/Lonesome Polly Ann/The Death of Edward Hawkins/Meet Me By the Moonlight/White Man/Shamus O'Brien.

This is a well produced and well played set of songs, with a few fiddle tunes thrown in for pacing, by (apparently) a husband and wife duo from Galena, Missouri. Though the notes on the selections are reasonably complete, I would have liked to know more about the performers. (Printing constraints may have come into play here, as the card is just one sheet printed on both sides, and it's pretty full as it is.) The recording, at The Sound Farm, Nixa, MO, Rick Davidson engineer, is great.

In style and range of interest, the Lansfords remind me some of Robin and Linda Williams. Kim has a strong, unembellished, mid-range voice; Jim offers nice harmonies which are tight, in tune, and not overpowering. One or both of the Lansfords play very nice guitar leads from time to time, and Jim does the breaks, when they occur, on mandolin (mostly), banjo, and violin. He also plays four tunes-"Wild Goose Chase" from Clark Kessinger, "Coming Up the Pike" from Missouri fiddler Art Galbraith, "Lonesome Polly Ann" from Lonnie Robertson, and "White Man," from the Christeson collection. Jim plays banjo as well on the Robertson tune, a cross-tuned piece that seems to me to really cook a lot more than the other tune selections. Although I applaud anyone who gives Kessinger a try, and "Wild Goose Chase" is one of his harder pieces, it seems too careful here.

The songs here are all good as pieces-that is, they offer strong content and good melodies. Sources include the Carter Family, Bill and Charlie Monroe, the McGee brothers, Asa Martin, Almeda Riddle, and two selections from the Stanleys. Added to solid performances throughout, the Lansfords have a recording effort to be proud of, and one worthy of your hard-earned old-time buckaroo.

So there's nothing to be really critical of here. But one little remark. The cover photo shows Kim and Jim standing against a worn brick wall with faded advertising-"Tavern," "Cold Coca-Cola," in the old script-a boarded up window, a young, black teen riding by in a blur on a bike, everything in sepia tones. The back photo is mor e of the same-empty sepia street, old pickup, cracked sidewalk, the couple standing on the corner, Sunday morning comin' down. But they can't quite look the part here, and how could they, really? Even Tom Waits can't look the part, quite. This is the once again great aesthetic dilemma of all us young fogies. That street looks so damn good, but if it's going to be more than just advertising, like a jeans commercial, then you have to somehow live there; but these nice, clean folks just don't want to live there, not really. Indeed, who wants to be, say, Billie Holiday in her late 50s? I don't know the answer to this. But it leaves CDs like this one being good music in the old-time, duo-singer vein, but sort of floating there, sort of unattached, ungrounded to something deeper. Maybe the Lansfords are working on some songs of their own, which will answer questions like, "Is this my beautiful house?" or "How did I get here?" Anyway, philosophy aside, Kim and Jim are good listening.

To Order: Kim and Jim Lansford, Rt. 4, Box 145, Galena MO 65656

Wm. N. Hicks

Back to Top

Laurie Lewis & Tom Rozum - The Oak and The Laurel

Laurie Lewis-fiddle, guitar, vocals; Tom Rozum-mandolin, mandola, guitar, vocals; Jerry Logan-bass; Todd Phillips-bass; Peter McLaughlin-guitar; Sally Van Meter-resophonic guitar, Weissenborn guitar; Darol Anger-cello; Mike Marshall-mandocello; John Pedersen-banjo; Craig Smith-banjo; Nina Gerber-guitar; Daniel Steinberg-piano.

My Dixie Darlin'/The Oak and The Laurel/Texas Girl/My Baby Came Back/Sleepy Eyes/Millionaire/Teardrops Falling In the Snow/The Lighthouse/Sleepy Eyed John-Tom and Jerry/So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)/Clark and Hazel/Poor Country Boy/Dream Of a Home.

Laurie and Tom, bandmates and frequent duet partners in Grant Street for the past decade or so, were in a serious auto accident with their band in 1994. An immediate consequence of their accident was their strengthened resolve to get cracking on a long planned duet album. The resultant album, The Oak and The Laurel, was released in 1995 and was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Traditional Folk category. I was delighted to discover on first hearing that the album showcases several of the duo's strengths that either tend to get short shrift in Grant Steet's full band setup or are taken for granted (joke) by fans who are familiar with Tom and Laurie's music through recent Grant Street recordings. I'm thinking here in particular of Laurie's wonderful traditional fiddling style and Tom's solo and harmony vocal talents.

The album, which reflects the diversity of Tom and Laurie's musical influences, is decidedly traditional in its overall feel, with several gems dotting the 13 songs and tunes. Laurie's excellent old-time fiddling is heard to good effect on several tracks; Tom's needlepoint mandolin playing is, as usual, tasteful and appropriate, the harmony singing is uniformly stellar, both Laurie and Tom shine in their turn as lead singers, and they are augmented instrumentally throughout by several of northern California's finest traditional instrumentalists.

Two Carter Family staples, "My Dixie Darlin'" and "Texas Girl," are each sung to a fare thee well. "Texas Girl," in particular, is performed in all its melancholy glory, as is the heartwrenching "Teardrops Falling In the Snow,": a rarely performed masterpiece from the repertoire of Molly O'Day. Laurie has performed this number in concert occasionally for at least 10 years, and more than once, I have seen an audience struggle to recover its collective breath at the conclusion of the song. The song is powerful and poignant, Tom's harmony adds punch to the lyric content, and his mandolin and Sally Van Meter's resophonic guitar wring every ounce of beauty from the melody, but it is Laurie's haunting and plaintive vocal that puts the song over. It is the story of a mother meeting her son's flag draped casket at the train station, and it is, as Laurie says in her song notes, "one of the most moving and eloquent arguments for peace" in the traditional repertoire.

The "Sleepy Eyed John/Tom and Jerry" medley gives Laurie a chance to show off her traditional fiddle chops; a breakdown fiddle player of some renown in northern California early in her career, her style is fashioned after such fiddling heroes as Curly Ray Cline and Ray Park. There are only two Laurie Lewis originals here, the mournful title cut, a lament to false love, tastefully adorned by John Pedersen's old-time banjo, and "Clark and Hazel," a pretty waltz written as a gift for the 50th wedding anniversary of Clark and Hazel DeLozier, two highly regarded and much loved members of northern California's traditional music community. They are on the verge, incidentally, of their 60th. Perhaps it, too, will produce a song.

Brother duets are represented by one each lesser known item from the Louvins and the Everlys, "My Baby Came Back," a joyous sequel to the Louvins' "My Baby's Gone," and the bittersweet "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)" from the Everlys. Mark Simos, whose songs have been showing up on a lot of albums lately, is represented by a beautifully melodic ballad, "Sleepy Eyes," and the late, great Don Stover is present in the form of his wonderful autobiographical "Poor Country Boy," on which Craig Smith evokes Don's memory beautifully on his banjo. Why isn't this guy better known? Equally effective is a Peter 'Rowan original, "Dream Of a Home," which has the classic feel of several of Peter's recent Monroe influenced bluegrass compositions.

Tom's two opportunities to step forward as lead vocalist are on David Olney's sardonic "Millionaire," a character study of a very bad person, and on David West-Penny Nichols' "Bay of Fundy"-ish original, "The Lighthouse"; it has the same brooding sense of foreboding as the Gordon Bok classic.

Overall the album derives a great deal of strength from its tasteful, appropriately spare arrangements, wonderful material, and of course, Tom and Laurie's many talents.

Randy Pitts

Back to Top

The Mando Mafia - Mando Mafia's Mando Liniment
Black Rose BRCD3

Kelly Perdue-mandolin, mandocello, mandola, lead vocal; Lewis Prichard-mandolin; Bill Giltinan, mandolin; Pete Marshall-octave mandolin, backup vocal; Rick Friend-guitar, fiddle, lead and backup vocal; Vaughan Mairs-bass, backup vocal. Guests: Dan Rublee-banjo; Fred Boyce-banjo; Paul Brier-accordion; Robbie Caruthers-fiddle.

Split the Ticket, Dark Clouds/Traveler's Advisory, Rocktown/Flatworld/Ryestraw/Lost Girl/Riley's Groundhog/There's a Brown Skin Girl Down the Road Somewhere/Grigsby's Hornpipe/Little Dan Sir/Slangen/Charleston No. 1/I Went to the Dance/Lamb's Wool Rag, Hell Up Coal Holler/Into Brudmarsch/Lost Indian, Happy Hollow/Maria/Booth Shot Lincoln, Down in the Swamp, Glory in the Meetinghouse.

I admit up front that I've known these folks for several years now, and to know 'em is to respect 'em as musicians. This, the third self-produced recording of this Charlottesville, VA band, shows them at their best. Mando Liniment is their first recording in a professional studio, but more , for the first time they include vocals (yes, they sing!) and feature guest musicians, providing relief from the mandolin-band sound alone. (Parental tip: small children mend their ways instantly upon being told that mandolin-band music plays eternally in Hell.)

Rick Friend, who wrote and sings "I Went to the Dance," doesn't 'belt out' this Rockabilly/Cajun song as the liner notes suggest. No, this rendering is better: understated, with just enough of a hint of echo on the vocal that, in turn, echoes the Rockabilly musical genre. The twin mandolin riff at the end of the chorus makes its own delightful understatement.

The musical guests are effectively integrated. "Traveler's Advisory" and "Rocktown" are Dan Rublee's own. His intricate rhythmic and chord structures are natural for this band, and his percussive, clawhammer banjo makes for a good counterpoint to all of those mandolins strings, as does Fred Boyce's bluegrass picking on "Little Dan Sir." Like Robbie Caruther's fiddle playing on a couple of cuts, there's no sense of 'Here's Dan!' 'Fred!' or 'Robbie!' Fact is, some of the regular members of the band play other instruments with the same skill they do 'mandos,' which could bode well for future recordings.

Other tunes reflect the typical Mando Mafia repertoire: original compositions, traditional material 'arranged' by the band; and recent tunes. The Swedish/Reggae, "Slangen," comes off well what with Rick's guitar picking melody line. "Maria," a Puerto Rican waltz, and another waltz, "Flatworld," first recorded by an English band, are tastefully rendered, the latter in particular showing the band at its arranging best. If there's anything missing here, it would be some showcasing of Vaughan Mairs' skill on bass that comes through on some cuts from the earlier recordings, where he not merely provides a base but to my ear provides something special that 'makes' the tune.

In all, a good package, a total package. Annotations are informed, informative and complete, down to keys, lyrics when relevant, and who's doing what on what. All of it readable, no small accomplishment with CD packaging these days. The artwork is professional and clever, maybe cute, with each member of the band featured in his own version of a turn-of-the-century ad for a patent medicine that carries out the theme of the CD title. 'Just as patent/folk remedies are an alternative to traditional medicine,' say the liner notes, 'Mando Liniment presents an alternative interpretation of traditional music.'

Earlier recordings of the band have had something of a 'tune's with 'tude' overtone that may reflect the band's origins, perhaps the name of the band itself. The current release indicates a growing up, reaching out, and laying back without compromising the excellent musicianship. Go for it.

Cameron Nickels

Back to Top

Marley's Ghost - Four Spacious Guys
OWR-0051 (CD)

Dan Wheetman-vocals, banjo, fiddle, guitar, bass; Mike Phelan-vocals, fiddle, guitar, lap steel; Jon Wilcox-vocals, mandolin; Ed Littlefield Jr.-vocals, pedal steel, guitar. With Nick Forster-bass, guitar; and The Boys of the Lough (Aly Bain, Cathal McConnell, Christy O'Leary) on "How Will I Ever Be Simple Again."

Sailing Away To The West/Higher Ground/Gabrielle/Sugar Trade/Oh, Mary (Don't You Weep)/How Will I Ever Be Simple Again/Sirey (Sierra) Peaks/I Can See Your Aura/Teach My Heart To Believe/Hearts Aren't Made Of Stone/Turtle Dove/Fiddler '89s Green/Rock the Rose/Them Beautiful Bottles.

This is a somewhat homemade CD from a band billed (on the liner notes) as able to "change their stripes and move as fast as any band in America. When we all got together to talk about what kind of record to make," they continue, "a wonderful image became our guide: a thin mist, tall fir trees, dappled light, smoke rising from a chimney, a few good friends making music." This is pretty much the feeling of the CD-some pickers and singers playing pretty much for fun, maybe in a living room or on a small stage somewhere, big grins on their faces.

As you can tell from the play list, they touch many bases-a Cajun waltz they wrote, a Richard Thompson song (with the Boys of the Lough sitting in, somewhat distantly), some old-time tunes that would work fine for a moderate dance, humorous songs from Hank Bradley and the cowboy tradition (one quibble here-in the first verse of "Sirey Peaks" it's "cowography," a great made-up word, not "typography"). They also do a couple of Grassy songs in the modern vein, a hilarious send-up of both New Age cliches and, maybe, mountain gospel singing style, Mark Graham's "I Can See Your Aura," and a gospel song from the Georgia Sea Islands.

Marley's Ghost plays quite competently, though I have the sense that in spots they may have been careful. Perhaps the old studio problem: each mistake costs money, so you tend to get careful, particularly if it's your own dime. This isn't a "learning CD," but it may well be a labor of love. If you want to know more about the band, they have a web site: which features pictures, more CDs, and in fo about the band and how to buy their wares. They operate on the left coast mostly I would guess.

To Order: PO Box 27901-556, San Francisco, CA 94127; 415-665-6993.

Wm. N. Hicks

Back to Top

Joe Pancerzewski - Legendary Northwest Fiddler
Voyager VRCD 341

Barbara's Waltz/St. Adele's Reel/Celin le Blanc/Butterfly Waltz/Rippling Water Jig/Cabri Waltz/Pembrooke Reel/Danny Flannigan's Clog/Silver Wedding Waltz/Grandfather's Reel/Burgundy Waltz/Walking Plow/Dreamer's Waltz/Turkey in the Cottonwoods/Carrick Jig/Fairy Waltz/Tulsa/Westerner's Waltz/Red River Cart Polka/Johnny Nelson's Favorite/Blue Vale Waltz/St. John's Hoedown/Quilting Bee Jig/Contessa Waltz/Original Canadian Hoedown/Marion's Waltz/Twinkletoe Polka/Woodchopper's Reel/Desire Waltz/Alfie's Hornpipe/Yours and Mine Waltz/Globetrotter's Jig/Early in the Evening/Rye Valley Waltz/Hell Before Breakfast/Vivian's Waltz.

Joe Pancerzewski-fiddle; Mary Calvert-piano; Harold Buis- guitar; Dick Marvin-guitar; Barney Munger-banjo; Lou Harrington-bass; Gordon Tracie-guitar and woodblocks; Vivian Williams-2nd fiddle-piano-bass; Phil Williams-mandolin and bass.

Listening to this CD provided me with my first glimpse into the warm and soulful fiddling of the late Joe Pancerzewski. I had heard his name and had seen his records advertised and reviewed for years, but never had actually heard his playing. That was my loss, as I find Pancerzewski to be one of the more expressive old-time fiddlers I've heard in quite awhile even though his playing is quite far removed in style and by geography from much of what a lot of us think of as "old-time music."

Pancerzewski was born in 1905 in North Dakota. Apparently the area was thick with fiddlers who played square dance tunes, waltzes, polkas, and schottisches and young Joe absorbed all he could from them. When he was a teenager, Joe moved to Western Canada where he began playing in a more Canadian style. He also joined a touring band that played popular dance music of the day and finally settled in Bellingham, Washington. If you throw in a touch of contest fiddling, a bit of bluegrass, and mix it all up, then you'll get an idea of what Joe Pancerzewski's fiddling is all about.

This CD is a compilation of material drawn from three of Joe's records which were issued on Voyager prior his death in 1991. There is no shortage of tunes here. The program is divided up almost evenly between waltzes and hoedowns with an occasional jig or polka thrown, adding to the variety. Although Joe draws heavily on the Western Canadian fiddle tradition for material, he also was the composer of many a fine tune, several of which are included here. Whatever the source, the music seems to be geared towards dancing-the hoedowns not too fast nor the waltzes too slow, highly melodic but with an emphasis on good rhythm. Throughout, Joe's bowing is steady and driving, yet delicate. His use of vibrato adds a touch of elegance here and there. The accompanists vary from cut to cut, but the instrumentation consists primarily of piano and guitar with an occasional bluegrass banjo, mandolin, and bass thrown in for good measure. Highly recommended.

To order: Voyager Records, 424 35th Ave., Seattle, WA 98122;

Jim Nelson

Back to Top

The Red Mountain White Trash - Fire in the Dumpster
Whoop It Up! CD 101

Ed Baggott and Jim Cauthen-fiddles; Joyce Cauthen-guitar; Phil Foster-mandolin; Jamie Finley-harmonica, banjo uke; Bill Martin-autoharp; Nancy Jackson-bass.

Indian Ate a Woodchuck, Chuck-a-luck/Dixie Hoedown/Muddy Creek, Dead Slave/Sequatchie Valley/Green Valley Waltz/Coon Dog, Wes Muir's Tune/Highlander's Farewell, Haning's Farewell/Rose of Alabama/Sam Hill, Turkey Foot/Coon on a Rail, Devil on the Stump/Meg Gray, Cattle in the Cane/Flower from the Fields of Alabama/Back to Chattanooga, Cincinnati Rag/Roaring River/Elzic's Farewell, Monroe's Farewell to Long Hollow, Jeff Davis/Wild Bill Jones/Hollow Poplar, Pamela's Hornpipe/Hi De Ho, Baby Mine/Fire in the Dumpster.

Joyce Cauthen will be known to old-time aficionados as the producer of Possum Up a Gum Stump (Alabama Traditions), a compilation of Alabama fiddling old and new accompanied by a fat and nicely illustrated booklet that bespeaks considerable research into, as well as love for, the topic. Well, here she is with husband Jim Cauthen and friends under the banner of The Red Mountain White Trash, who offer their own interpretation and extension of the Alabama old-time music tradition.

As you may tell from the band name and the CD title, these guys can be a little facetious. (Incidentally, the band name poses a minor problem for the reviewer: how to abbreviate it? I think I'll settle for "the Red Mountaineers" rather than "the Trash," as they disarmingly call themselves in the liner notes. Red Mountain is the name of the section of Birmingham where the band first came together in the mid-1980s.) But there's no silliness in their playing: it's consistently strong, with a centered regional feel. Most of their repertoire is Alabama-based, though Kentucky and Tennessee come into the picture too; many of the tunes are in the keys of C and G. The liner notes give a good account of the Red Mountaineers' sources, ranging from James Bryan (a noted collector as well as fiddler), to Bob Douglas of Chattanooga (who apparently beat both A. A. Gray and Lowe Stokes in fiddle contests in his time!), to Ralph Whited of Oneonta, Alabama (who can be heard on the aforementioned Possum Up a Gum Stump). Recordings of Nile Wilson, Bruce Greene, Art Stamper and others are also credited.

One thing that's noteworthy in the Mountaineers' instrumentation is an absence: no banjo. But it's not as if there's a gap in the sound. The percussive layer that might otherwise have been wanting is supplied by Phil Foster's melodic mandolin and Jamie Finley's rythmic banjo uke; the latter's harmonica also adds spice on some of the tunes. With no clawhammer player the band is relatively unresticted as to key, and they have put together a number of medleys with key changes in the middle. No doubt this variety pleases the dancers for whom the Red Mountaineers regularly play; it also works well on the recording. Up top, Jim Cauthen and Ed Baggott share the fiddling, sometimes individually and sometimes together. For my money, Ed is an outstanding fiddler whose playing deserves to be more widely known. Jim is no slouch either, and the two of them go at it most congruently. The solid flooring is provided by Joyce Cauthen on guitar and Nancy Jackson on bass.

The sound quality is good, and it's encouraging, for anyone interested in recording their own music at reasonable cost, to note that the recording was made "live" at Nancy Jackson's house (using a Sony DAT machine and Crown overhead mike). The CD is a generous length, at 65:53 minutes, and the Red Mountaineers' predeliction for medleys means that we actually get a total of 30 tunes (if I counted right). Given the quality, this recording is not only a pleasure but also a bargain.

To order: J. Cauthen, 205-822-0505,

Allin Cottrell

Back to Top

Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin - Heart Songs: The Old Time Country Songs of Utah Phillips
Rounder CD 0424

Jody Stecher-vocals, guitar, banjo; Kate Brislin-vocals, guitar.

Orphan Train/Walking Through Your Town in the Snow/Hood River Roll On/Scofield Mine Disaster/Miner's Lullaby/Rock Salt and Nails/Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia/A Ragged Old Man/The Jury Set Him Free/Faded Rose/John D. Lee/Golden Mansion/I Remember Loving You.

The one-on-one clearness that comes with duet singing has always appealed to me, especially if the singers have that special rural tone and edge in their voices. Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin have those special qualities, and they were meant to sing together.

With this CD of 13 songs, Stecher and Brislin render some great old-time country songs written by Utah Phillips. Phillips, a collector and writer of songs about real people and events for nearly 50 years, is a mysterious and legendary figure. His travels started when he ran away from home as a teenager during the late 1940s. From work and hobo camps to Korea, Alaska, and all over this country in many differing situations, he writes about our past, much of nearly forgotten, and he writes from the heart. The extensive liner notes by Phillips, Stecher, and Alan Senauke make for very interesting reading.

Stecher and Brislin do an excellent job with these songs. You can hear various brother duet influences in their style as well as influences from Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, however, their own signature is strong throughout. Prior to listening to the CD I thought that the sparse instrumentation was a mistake, but their guitar work is very clean, mixed well, and is just what these folk songs need.

This CD is quickly becoming one of my very favorites, and Rounder Records needs to be heralded for their support not only for this record but for their continued efforts toward old-time music. "Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia," "Orphan Train," "John D. Lee," and "I Remember Loving You" are my favorite cuts on a grand project.

Dale Morris

Back to Top

Fred Stoneking - Saddle Old Spike: Fiddle Music From Missouri
Rounder 0381

Fred Stoneking-fiddle; Alita Stoneking-guitar; Gordon McCann-guitar.

Birdie in a Snowbank/Horse and Buggy-O/Sugar Betty Ann/Evelyn's Waltz/Honey Creek Special/Burt County Breakdown/Buzzard in a Pea Patch/Who's Going To Talk To Dinah?/Blackberry Waltz/Old Indiana/Old Gray Goose/Muddy Weather/McCowan's Waltz/Needle in a Haystack/Cherry Blossom/Saddle Old Spike/Green's Waltz/Dance Around Molly/Humansville/Blackberry One Step/Walk Along, John/Willott's Hornpipe/No Little Home To Go To/Rye Whiskey /Goodbye Liza Jane/Frisky Jim.

I am sitting here listening to Fred Stoneking fiddle for the umpteenth time. His playing continues to grow on me, and I liked it from the beginning. This CD is quite a find. Fred was born in 1933 in Chilhowee, Johnson County, Missouri. His dad, Lee, was a famed area fiddler (with several self-produced LPs to his credit) and local farmer. Many generations of Stonekings were old-time musicians, primarily fiddlers, so Fred grew up hearing some great music at family gatherings. He began fiddling while in the Service during the Korean War and finally took his first fiddling blue ribbon in 1966, beating his dad, no mean feat. He says that the biggest influence on his playing outside his family is the legendary Missourian Pete McMahan, but I don't quite hear it. I find Fred's style, at least that presented on this recording, to have more in common with Bob Holt. The notes state that Fred performed for years as a stage fiddler in Branson, Missouri. Don't let this scare you off, because he has obviously spent a lot of time playing for Ozark square dances. Most of these tunes percolate, "Horse and Buggy-O" and "Burt County Breakdown," for instance. Very hot dance tunes! Some of his music made me nostalgic too, but oddly for my native Ohio. Fred's "Sugar Betty Ann" is a dead ringer for Lonnie Seymour's "Sugar Barrel" (which can be heard on Marimac 9013 Ross County Farmers-Lonnie is from Chillicothe, Ohio) and one strain of "Cherry Blossoms" is remarkably similar to Estil Adams' "Putner's Run" (Estil was from Washington Courthouse, Ohio). And of course "Buzzard in a Pea Patch" is none other than the Buddy Thomas tune "Turkey in the Pea Patch" (also played by other fiddlers along both sides of the Ohio River). And while we are on cognates, "Who's Going To Talk to Dinah?" sounds like "Martha Campbell" meshed with "Liza Jane." The intriguingly titled "Humansville" closely follows the melody line of tunes in the "Fiddler's Drunk and the Fun's All Over" family. "No Little Home To Go To" is a variant of the regional titles "Seneca Square Dance," "The Higher Up the Monkey Climbs," etc. One tune I was very happy to hear here is "Muddy Weather." Geoff Seitz has played it about quite a bit over the years (probably learned from Lee Stoneking?) and out here in the Northwest it has been popularized by Armin Barnett, who got it from Geoff. While both those gentlemen play the bewillikers out of it, what a pleasure it is to hear this delightful Stoneking family tune played by a family member. It too is a great dance tune, popularized (and given its current name) by Lee Stoneking. Due to Brad Leftwich's generosity, I was able to listen to some tapes of Lee (Brad had visited him before his death; but also, I need to offer thanks to Jim Nelson, who offered to copy tapes of Lee for me listen to in order to compare his playing with Fred's), and while he was a renowned fiddler, I think I like Fred's playing a tad better. Okay, you have to be a fiddle fanatic to sit down and revel over an hour's worth of nothing but fiddle tunes (and I plead guilty), but with the quality that Fred Stoneking produces, with the solid rhythmic backup on guitar of Alita Stoneking and producer Gordon McCann, it's not that difficult. Oh, I see that the recording has ended. I think I'll play it again. It just seems to get better and better each time I listen.

Kerry Blech

Back to Top

Strange Creek Singers - Strange Creek Singers
Arhooolie 9003

Mike Seeger-vocals, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, guitar, autoharp, harmonica; Alice Gerrard-vocals, guitar; Tracy Schwarz-vocals, fiddle, guitar, dobro; Hazel Dickens-vocals, bass; Lamar Grier-banjo.

When I Can Read My Titles Clear/In The Pines/Sunny Side Of Life/Poor Old Dirt Farmer/Sally Ann/I Truly Understand That You Love Another Man/Old Black Choo Choo/Today Has Been A Lonesome Day/No Never No/New River Train/Get Aquainted Waltz/Will The Circle Be Unbroken/Black Lung/Difficult Run Part 2.

This is a reissue of the classic LP originally released in 1972, and recorded between 1968 and 1970. If you've been around old-time music as long as I have, you might have a beat up copy of this stashed on some shelf, in which case, many thanks to Arhoolie for putting it out there again, in the modern format, where cuts can be accessed with no risk of needle scratches, and, indeed, where you, the listener, can actually program your own order of play without regard to what the Singers decided way back then (if you think you're so smart).

Most "city players" come to traditional music with a wide perspective, you might say. It sort of comes with the territory. This is clearly true here, and remarked on in Richard Spottswood's interesting and personal notes to the CD. Although there is a strong "traditional bluegrass" flavor to much of the music here, there are also a variety of surprises-anomalies in a sense-that wouldn't be found, even today, on a straight bluegrass project. Rarely, for example, will you hear both clawhammer and three-finger banjo-playing simultaneously, as here on "New River Train." And of course throughout there is the attention to the context of the piece in question, and reference after musical reference to the whole old-time background that these players have in their heads by virtue of their research and scholarship-licks from the Carter style of guitar playing when they are doing "Will the Circle. . ." in something of the Carter style, or the great bent note playing and singing of Tracy on "Dirt Farmer" (a song which has almost become his theme song through the years-was this its first appearance?), a song he wrote but which connects Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, and Fiddlin' John Carson The cuts which feature Alice Gerrard and Hazel Dickens are some of the strongest on the disc, and include Alice's original "No Never No," and the great "Today Has Been a Lonesome Day which also features Mike doing Bill Monroe's style of mandolin to a tee.

Then there is Hazel Dickens, the one Strange Creeker of hardcore country background. She has a spectacular voice of course-the equal, surely, of Ralph Stanley's (until those two do an album sometime, she and Tracy's "Get Aquainted Waltz" will have to do), and her tonal qualities and diction go together with her range and the ability to hit high harmony notes to confer utter authenticity on any group she chooses to sing with. Then she writes a song like "Black Lung." Most country and bluegrass seems to retreat from the political, leaving the field to the city players with often unfortunate results. Hazel has gone foresquare against that reticent tradition through the years.

If there is a weakness to this CD, it is only that the Strange Creek Singers, as a performing, working group, had a somewhat ephemeral existence. This comes through on the album, where there are really very few cuts which feature the whole group. The album is rather more a collection of individual talents, lead turns, than a band performance. I can imagine it as a concert, with one or the other of the players coming on and off the stage-Mike with his many instruments, Lamar for the bluegrass banjo segments, Alice when there is a need for her voice, first with Mike, then Tracy, then Hazel, then the two of them together. And, hey, there's nothing wrong with that. It's a damn good show!

Wm. N. Hicks

Back to Top

Video Review
Doc & Merle Watson
- In Concert
Vestapol video 13030

Doc Watson-guitar; Merle Watson-guitar, banjo; Michael Coleman-bass.

Way Downtown/Sadie/Frosty Morn/Big Sandy, Old Joe Clark/Don't Think Twice, It's Alright/Summertime/Smoke, Smoke/Sweet Georgia Brown/Pallet On Your Floor/Streamline Cannonball/Wild Bill Jones/Natural Born Gamblin Man/Got the Blues, Cant be Satisfied/I Miss the Mississippi And You/'Rangement Blues/Yankee Doodle, Dixie. Plus spoken sections.

When I first encountered old-time music some of the most memorable recordings I heard were of the Watson family, of Deep Gap, North Carolina, including of course the famous Doc. Gaither Carlton's fiddling backed up by Doc's guitar (like Maybelle Carter on steroids, if that's not too vulgar a description) was a real feast for the ear and soul. In addition to his marvelous backup, there was Doc's solo style. Most of the time I'd rather hear fiddle tunes played on the fiddle but Doc is special: I remember thinking that he seemed to be possessed of some wonderful algorithm for making a guitar piece out of a fiddle tune, finding just the right extra notes to insert to make up for the guitar's lack of sustain. It seemed you could maybe program it on a computer. What you couldn't program is Doc's seemingly effortless dexterity, and expression.

This 60-minute videotape is based on a concert given in 1980. By this time the older generation of Watsons had passed away, and Doc had settled into a trio with his late son Merle on guitar and banjo, and T. Michael Coleman on electric bass, playing a variety of music (see the play list above). Center stage is shared between Doc's flatpicking (and mellifluous singing) and Merle's fingerpicking, in a style strongly influenced by Mississippi John Hurt. The concert selections are interspersed with reminiscences and anecdotes from Doc and Merle at home. It is nicely done. Video producers seem to have a distressing tendency to direct the focus anywhere but where a musician, attempting to learn from the performers, would want it to be at any given moment, but there's not too much of that here. You get a good view of father and son at work. Not that a close-up at the right moment makes it much easier to emulate Doc. But I have to agree with Kerry Blech (OTH review section, summer 1997): I don't find the music of this period as deeply satisfying as the old-time sounds I first heard from the Watson family.

Allin Cottrell

Back to Top

Various Artists - Celtic Mouth Music
Ellipsis Arts: CD and Book 4070

Mrs. Arthur MacArthur, Outer Hebrides: "just a song you can dance to" / Audrey Saint-Coeur, NŽduac, New Brunswick: Diddlage / John MacDonald, Scotland: Strathspey, The Reel of Tulloch / Dolores Keane and John Faulkner, Ireland: Mouth Music / Yann-F\'87nch Kemener, Brittany: Marie Louise / Beno”t Beno”t, Acadia: Reel ˆ Bouche / Grey Larsen and AndrŽ Marchand, United States: Reel ˆ Boche Acadien, Horses, Geese, and One Old Man / The McPeake Family Trio, Ireland: The Road to Ballynure / Bridgit Fitzgerald, Ireland: An Sean Duine D—ite (The Burnt Old Man) / Kenna and Mary Campbell, Isle of Skye: Horo! My Regret, The Lord of Dunmore / Norman Kennedy, Scotland: Puirt-a-beul / Colm O'Donell, Ireland: Molly Brannigan / Eilidh Mackenzie, Scoland and Nova Scotia: Puirt-a-beul / Tommy Gunn, Ireland: Lilting with Fiddle, Guitar and Bones / Gordon Easton, Scotland: The Drunken Piper / Josie McDermott, Ireland: The Collier's Reel / Tim Lyons, Ireland: Within a Mile of Dublin / Paddy Tunney, Ireland: Scots Bagpipe Lilts / Joe Holmes and Lin Graham, Ireland: The Girl That Broke My Heart / Elizabeth White, Scotland: Piping Imitation / Talitha MacKenzie: The Cave of Gold / Elizabeth Cronin, Ireland: The Little Pack of Tailors / Seamus Ennis, Ireland: What Would You Do / Christine Primrose, Outer Hebrides: Last Night My Mind Wasƒ, The Drunkenness that Christmas Brought Us / Annie Johnston, Barra Island: Bird Imitations / Finlay Maclean, Isle of Harris, Scotland:Purit Medley / Mary Ann Kennedy, Scotland: I Would Go Quickly, Enjoy Your Shoes, Ducks' Nest in the Rushes / Allan Kelly, New Brunswick: La cou de ma bouteille / Jeannie Robertson, British Isles: The Cuckoo's Nest / The Goadec Sisters, Brittany: La poule qui couve / Sarah Makem, Ireland: As I Roved Out / Les Charbonniers De L'Enfer, Quebec: La luette en colre / Jean Redford, Scotland: Children's Songs in Lallans Scots / Paddy Doran, Ireland: The Roving Journeyman / Frank Quinn, Irish Born New York policeman: The Four Courts Reel / Madame Bolduc, Quebec: Mon vieux est jaloux / Emma Shelton, North Carolina: Pretty Little Girl With a Blue Dress On.

This remarkable collection of music, and its extensive accompanying book, is a compilation on a theme-mouth music in its various incarnations in what might be construed broadly as the Gaelic world-a world reaching out from Ireland, Scotland, the Hebrides, Brittany, and into the new world of French-speaking Canada, the Appalachians of the U.S., the streets of New York City. It draws from many recorded collections of traditional music made over much of the century, from field work by people like Alan Lomax and Jean Ritchie, from concerts by groups like De Danaan, from people that taught their tunes to the likes of The Boys of the Lough, from the mother of Tommy Makem. It may be the first such collection devoted to this seemingly simple musical art, which is so often brushed past in concerts by Celtic groups as a novelty. It is, if you look carefully at the listing of tracks which begins this review, certainly in a sense more than most listeners ever wanted or expected to know. And the book, by producer Matthew Kopka, is crammed with photos of the artists and with an amazingly detailed discussion of the music-the musics really-in question.

Yet. Yet this collection is also a rich and detailed picture of what a traditional folk art really is, and of what depth and meaning really exists behind the simple idea expressed by Mrs. MarArthur in the first cut on the disc-"just a song you can dance to." I was certain that this would be a hard task, to sit and listen and then review this massive project. It draws you in. Partly this is because the organizers of the material wisely chose to include some instrumentation, some language (beyond the dididdlededido skat that is almost every listeners' sole prerequsite knowledge), in fact, several languages. As I was drawn in, then, I began to learn that, in fact, there are many varieties of mouth music, or purit-a-buel as it is often called where the tradition lives. Consider, for a moment, some of these sources:

Paddy Tunney . . . This style of lilting . . . is sometimes called "cantering" by singers. Tunney, reportedly still going strong at 75, was a member of the Irish Republican Army in the early 1940s, and did five years in the Belfast jail for carrying explosives; he reportedly exchanged jigs and reels with fellow prisoners by tapping on the water pipe in his cell.

The late [Josie] McDermott was a "true bard," according to Robin Morton. A Sligo man like Colm O'Donnell, McDermott wrote many songs, and was Irish champion on the whistle, alto saxophone, flute, and as a lilter.

[Gordon] Easton kicks off this march in a deceptively simple manner, setting out the melody and introducing changes in the crisp northeast Scots fiddle style. Each new decoration is a minimalist delightƒ Easton has won many prizes for his mouth music in northeast [Scotish] competitions. "It's been fun, but my diddlin' days are comin' to an end," he reports.

Jean Ritchie and George Pickow collected this and some 50 other tunes by Cork singer Bess Cronin during their visit to Ireland in 1952.

And finally-but only because this review must come to an end: Christine Primrose, a native of the Island of Lewis in Scotland's Outer Hebrides, is a thoroughly modern woman who sees no paradox between her love of the blues. . . and the ancient songs of her ance stors. . . Of these tunes and how she came to put them together, she says, "It's just a wee thing that satisfies me."

I hope by these few quotes only to paint a picture of what's really here in compliation-many small snips from a vast tapestry of cultural tradition, and enough for the listener who brings a focused ear to the task to begin to perceive the real scope of the reality behind the tapestry, of the lives of all these joyful people.

To Order: Ellipsis Arts, P.O. Box 305, Roslyn, NY 11576 (516)621-2727;

Wm. N. Hicks

Back to Top

Various Artists - Close To Home: Old Time Music From Mike Seeger's Collection 1952 - 1967
Smithsonian/Folkways 40097

Elizabeth Cotten-In the Sweet Bye and Bye/Will Adam-Tie Your Dog, Sally Gal/J. C. 'Cleve' Sutphin-Banjo Instrumental/V. L. Sutphin-Lost Train Blues/Vernon & Cleve Sutphin-Shortening Bread/V. & C. Sutphin-The Train That Carried My Girl From Town/J. J. Neece-Old Gambling Man/John Henry/Louise Foreacre-Shout, Little Lulu/Kilby Snow-He Will Set Your Fields On Fire/Ernest & Hattie Stoneman-Gather In the Golden Grain/Elizabeth White-Going To Lay Down My Burdens/Lesley Riddle-John Henry/Tom Ashley-Pretty Fair Damsel/Pearly 'Grandma' Davis-It's These Hard Times/Old-Time Reel/A. L. Hall & Group-Jackson Schottische/Wade Ward-Lone Prairie/Molly, Put the Kettle On/Edsel Martin & Bill McElreath-Last Gold Dollar/Bill & Jean Davis-John Henry/The Blue Ridge Buddies-Three Nights Drunk/Jimmie Sutton/Snuffy Jenkins & Ira Dimmery-Going To Lay Down My Old Guitar/Arthur Smith, Sam & Kirk McGee-Black Mountain Rag/Clyde Lewis-A Talk On the World/Lost John' Ray & Walt Koken-Red Wing/Eck Robertson & The New Lost City Ramblers-Leather Breeches/Sherman Lawson-Blackberry Blossom/Emmett Cole-Alabama Gals/George Landers-Old Joe Clark/Dock Boggs-Sugar Baby/Archie Sturgill-Queen Sally/Kate Peters Sturgill-Poor Orphan Child/Scott Boatright-My Virginia Rose/Sara Carter Bayes & Maybelle Carter-I'm Leaving You/Stancer Quartet-He Said, If You Love Me, Feed My Sheep/Clarence Ferrill-I Would Not Live Always.

Those of us who care a lot about world traditional music were greatly relieved when the Smithsonian Institution agreed to accept the Folkways catalog upon Moe Asch's death. If they had undertaken only to keep the massive catalog available they would have done a great service to all of us. Even better, Smithsonian Folkways has expanded the original offerings with CD releases such as this one, which was never published by Folkways.

Those who are enthralled by his performances may not know that Mike is also a prolific collector and promoter of music by others. This CD represents samples from a number of artists that had their own LPs recorded and produced by Seeger and published by Folkways or Rounder, but this is not a sampler album in the usual sense. The notes list the original Folkways recordings for each artist (available on cassette from SF), but most of the pieces given here were not on the original LPs. Yet they're not out-takes either, because they're fully as good as those that were originally published. They do, however, tend to be short (that's right-all of the music listed above is squeezed onto one CD). I have a feeling that Mike started listening to his old tapes, and came up with an embarrassment of riches, too good to keep to himself. How else could you explain the existence of three superb "John Henrys" on one record? In fact, I think Mike slipped in a fourth "John Henry" under the title "Going to Lay Down My Old Guitar."

Reviewing an excellent collection like this is always difficult, because all the cuts are worthy of attention for one reason or the other. Lesley Riddle, for example, is worth including solely because he taught both songs and African-American guitar styles to the original Carter Family. Others, such as Elizabeth Cotten, Eck Robertson, Kilby Snow, Ernest Stoneman, Arthur Smith, the McGee Brothers, Dock Boggs, and Sara & Maybelle Carter have directly influenced several generations of musicians. So even flawed works by them would be interesting; but there are no noticeable flaws in the playing here. Elizabeth Cotten's instructive demonstration of the difference between Church Time and Rag Time on "In the Sweet Bye and Bye" accentuates the four-square rhythm of Church Time. Arthur Smith"s technical brilliance on "Black Mountain Rag" stands out more on this anthology than if it were surrounded by other Smith tunes. Kilby Snow's "He Will Set Your Fields On Fire" is so marvelous on the autoharp that now I wish he had sung the words, so I could learn them. And don"t overlook "I"m Leaving You," even if you already own recordings of hundreds of Carter Family songs. Some of the most interesting material, however, is by people who have had little previous influence on the old-time community, at least in the formats presented here. J. J. Neece"s "Old Gambling Man," Tom Ashley's unaccompanied "Pretty Fair Damsel," and Archie Sturgill's "Queen Sally" are fine archaic ballads, while Pearly Davis's "It's These Hard Times" should be picked up by a performer looking for good material with a quirky rhythm. The stylish "Jackson Schottische" should similarly be learned by a Scandinavian dance band; it's a good one.

Finally, I appreciated "A Talk On the World," recorded in the parking lot of the Union Grove Fiddler's Convention in 1967. It is a parody of a 19th century Chautauqua lecture, complete with preposterous words and images, and part of a non-musical oral tradition that's often overlooked by collectors, so is really rare on a recording. I'm glad Mike recorded it, and had the wisdom to include it on this CD (although, after the 20th hearing, I might be tempted to skip over it. Either that, or I'll have learned it; only time will tell).

It's not clear from the notes as to why this collection ends in 1967, or if there will be sequels covering Mike's recordings from the last 30 years. I hope so.

Lyle Lofgren

Back to Top

Various Artists - I Can't Be Satisfied Early American Women Blues Singers
Yazoo CDs 2026 and 2027

Vol. 1:Country Ruby Glaze-Lonesome Day Blues/Hattie Hart with Memphis Jug Band-Papa's Got Your Bath Water On/Hattie Hudson-Black Hand Blues/Lottie Kimbrough-Goin' Away Blues/Bertha Lee-Mind Reader Blues/Memphis Minnie-Outdoor Blues/Bertha Henderson-That Lonesome Rave/Mae Glover-I Ain't Givin' Nobody None/Rosie Mae Moore-School Girl Blues/Lillian Miller-Dead Drunk Blues/Lizzie Washington-My Low Down Brown/Irene Scruggs-My Back to the Wall/Geeshie Wiley-Eagles on a Half/Bessie Tucker-Penitentiary/Lottie Kimbrough-Rolling Log Blues/Jennie Clayton with Memphis Jug Band-State of Tennessee Blues/Mae Glover-Shake It Daddy/Pearl Dickson-Twelve Pound Daddy/Irene Scruggs-The Voice of the Blues/Elizabeth Johnson-Be My Kid Blues/Geeshie Wiley-Pick Poor Robin Clean/Bertha Lee-Yellow Bee/Mattie Delaney-Down the Road Blues.

Volume 2 Town Victoria Spivey-Dirty T.B. Blues/Clara Smith-Strugglin' Woman's Blues/Martha Copeland-Everybody Does It Now/Lucille Bogan-Pay Roll Blues/Sara Martin-Forget Me Not Blues/Sippie Wallace-Section Hand Blues/Edith Johnson-Good Chib Blues/Ma Rainey-Traveling Blues/Bertha "Chippie" Hill-Do Dirty Blues/Katherine Baker-I Helped You, Sick Man, When You Were Down and Out/Sara Martin-He's Never Gonna Throw Me Down/Victoria Spivey-Blood Hound Blues/Margaret Johnson-Dead Drunk Blues/Sippie Wallace-Parlor Social De Luxe/Hattie Burleson-Jim Nappy/Alberta Brown-How Long/Bertha "Chippie" Hill-Trouble In Mind/Ma Rainey-Walking Blues/Sara Martin-Mistreating Man Blues/Sippie Wallace-Trouble Everywhere I Roam.

This two-CD set is required listening for anyone who wants to get a sense of the range and depth of the great women blues singers of the 1920s and 1930s. The set is divided into Town and Country, with some overlap between the two. Volume 1, Country, may be of more interest to readers of the Old-Time Herald because it is definitely a closer cousin to the hillbilly music we all love; it uses mainly guitar as an accompaniment, and the intonation of both singers and players has that idiosyncratic flavor treasured by lovers of old-time music. Volume 2, Town, features singers who clearly are used to singing in a more "uptown" environment, backed by piano, cornet, tuba, trombone, jazz guitar, and violin (not fiddle).

Both CDs mix performances by some of the more obscure singers like Rosie Mae Moore, Elizabeth Johnson, Hattie Burleson with a few by more well-known singers such as Memphis Minnie, Ma Rainey and Victoria Spivey; 32 singers are represented in all. For the most part, the material chosen even from the well-known singers is also obscure, giving us a chance to hear some rare recordings that haven't been readily available before, especially not in this superbly cleaned-up form.

The material seems to have been chosen (by two men, Richard Nevins and Don Kent) to reflect a woman's experience, and, rather than being of the generic "I'm so downhearted" variety, the songs deal with gritty and unpleasant subjects such as homelessness, struggles with disease, spousal abuse, alcoholism, poverty, serving time in prison, prostitution. It is depressing how contemporary these stories are! Life for women hasn't changed as much as it should have over the past 70 years. Victoria Spivey's "Blood Hound Blues" is sung from the point of view of a woman serving time in jail for poisoning an abusive husband. Sara Martin's "Mistreating Man Blues" is another about surviving spousal abuse. In "Outdoor Blues" Memphis Minnie relates an all-too-common story of homelessness (a favorite subject of hers; it crops up in many of her songs). Spivey's "T.B. Blues" paints a darkly familiar picture of an incurable and fatal disease acquired from too much seedy nightlife. This material could have come out of this morning's newspaper!

Volume 1, Country, starts off with a version of "How Long Blues" by Ruby Glaze, the nom-de-disc of Blind Willie McTell's wife, Kate Williams McTell. I like her singing but his spoken interjections quickly got on my nerves, although his slide playing is wonderful as always. There are a few playful jug band blues, including "Papa's Got Your Bath Water On," featuring the high-spirited Hattie Hart backed by the Memphis Jug Band. I love the incomprehensible Memphis Jug Band lyrics, even after you decipher the words, they're so full of double-entendre and idiomatic jargon that they still don't make any sense!

Mind Reader by Bertha Lee (Charlie Patton's companion) has exactly the type of scary-sounding guitar accompaniment we associate with the country blues, for who could epitomize country blues more than Charlie Patton? Both her singing and his playing use the kind of intonation we associate with Patton, Robert Johnson, Skip James, et al.; it's a more pentatonic scale than is generally used by urban blues singers of that era, with more of what we think of as "blue notes" that is, the flatted 3rd and sharped 7th. I think it is this quality that makes me feel the music on the Country volume as "deeper" than the music on the Town volume.

Many of the singers on Volume 1 are backed by their paramours, who include some of the country blues most important guitarists. In addition to Charlie Patton backing up Bertha Lee, there are also partnerships of Bertha Henderson and Blind Blake, Ruby Glaze and Willie McTell, Rosa Mae Moore and Charlie McCoy. But there are also several women who don't need any man to provide accompaniment! These include the Queen of the Country Blues, Memphis Minnie, Elvie Thomas with Geeshie Wiley, and Mattie Delaney. Other notable guitar players represented include the evocative Miles Pruitt backing up Lottie Kimbrough and the 12-string playing of John Byrd with Mae Glover, whose playing is not introspective like that of Willie McTell buthas more of the old-time feeling of John Jackson or Henry Thomas. It feels downright miraculous to actually hear Geeshie Wiley's "Pick Poor Robin Clean" even this clearly, it must be a very rare 78 because even this beautifully cleaned up reissue doesn't have a very clean version of it. The old one on the Country Girls LP was super-funky!! I have always loved Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas's raggy duet, one of the only female duets in the country blues genre (in fact I can't think of another offhand). Now I can finally understand the words.

Volume 1 fittingly ends with "Down the Big Road Blues" by the mysterious Mattie Delaney, who recorded a few sides in 1930, at the age of 25, when she had been playing guitar for only about 3 years. Her playing is strong and sure, her rhythm impeccable, she lays out a solid bass line with her thumb. What became of her?? After these sides were recorded she disappeared, another one of the great women musicians who faded into obscurity.

Volume 2, Town, features the classic women blues singers who came out of the tent show or vaudeville tradition, of which Bessie Smith is the most important. But she's not represented here, instead we get a bunch of obscure singers like Lucille Bogan, Ivy Smith and Madlyn Davis mixed with singers that are more well-known like Victoria Spivey, Ma Rainey, and Sippie Wallace.

Volume 2 gets right down to business with the chilling "Dirty TB Blues" by Victoria Spivey, backed by a full band; her full-voiced singing has more echoes of Ma Rainey here than it did later in her career (which continued unabated into the 1970s!). Other songs are more reflective of the popular tin pan alley music of the day, such as Martha Copeland's "Everybody Does It Now," or the great big voice of Sarah Martin, the kind of big voice that predates the use of microphones for performing. This is the style of singing which came out of vaudeville, and is not exactly what we think of when we think of the blues, but it was marketed along with the other race records of that era and thus ended up in the same bag.

While virtually all the singers on the Country volume are from the South, many of the blueswomen on the Town volume came out of Harlem, Chicago, or Pittsburgh. Their highly arranged music, with its accompaniment of piano, horns, and occasionally violin, reflects the movement of rural African-Americans in the early years of this century out of the South to the northern cities.

It's easy to hear echoes (pre-echoes?) of later singers in the music here. A few of these "Town" blues singers sound surprisingly modern; perhaps they were actually recorded later, although the subtitle of the CD says "Classic Recordings of the 1920s." On Edith Johnson's "Good Chib Blues," the muted trombone is almost 1950s. Johnson herself has a splendid voice, with a timbre and phrasing reminiscent of Billie Holiday, but richer and less edgy. The harmonica and piano accompaniment, unusual for this type of singing, on Margaret Johnson's "Dead Drunk Blues" gives this song a much more modern feel. "Parlour Social De Luxe" by Sippie Wallace is evidently a precursor to Bessie Smith's "Gimme A Pigfoot" (recorded at Smith's last session, in 1934); it mentions gin, razors, low-down dancing till broad daylight. In Sara Martin's singing you hear the same vocal nuances that are heard in Emmet Miller or, later, Jimmie Rodgers.

Some of these songs, such as the aforementioned "Parlor Social De Luxe," or Hattie Burleson's "Bye Bye Baby" (sung to the melody of Careless Love)exemplify a lighthearted type of classic blues, but others have a much more somber feel. When Ivy Smith (backed by the vibrato-drenched violin of Leroy Pickett) moans "I want me a man all of my own, it sure is hard to find a real man" at a snail's pace, she sounds thoroughly miserable. This song is followed by Hattie Burleson's up-tempo "Jim Nappy," who IS "a real good man" according to Burleson. Her rendition is joyful and energetic, with tenor banjo, tuba, and piano accompaniment.

It is always wonderful to hear old favorites like Ma Rainey's "Walking Blues," which exposes her weathered voice in all its deep beauty. Some of these singers sound very young, but Ma Rainey sounds as if she has some of the wisdom of age, she seems somehow more pragmatic (yet unresigned) than some of the younger tough cookies. One of the most important and influential of the women classic blues singers, Ma Rainey retired from music in the late 1920s; when she died in 1938 her occupation was listed as "housekeeper."

The Town volume winds up with Sippie Wallace's "Trouble Everywhere I Roam," on which she is backed by a stellar jazz band including Louis Armstrong on cornet; he can also be heard on Bertha "Chippie" Hill's classic "Trouble In Mind."

The booklets include excellent bio notes, with some photos. The notes give as much information as was available, telling who the accompanists were, where the singers were from, and (in a few cases) what became of these powerful women afterwards. Indeed, a lmost all of the women represented on both Town and Country seem to have completely disappeared after recording. A few continued to sing, most notably Memphis Minnie and Victoria Spivey; Sippie Wallace and Alberta Hunter were both re-discovered in the 60s. However, I wish the booklets had given the place and date of the original recordings.

As usual, Yazoo has done an exemplary job of cleaning up these old 78s. Although some of the performances are rough in some places (flubs that a modern-day recording would never let out), these older recordings have so much immediacy!! This is a quality I find in most "golden age" recordings, and which I find lacking in most modern recordings. Somehow for me the rough edges humanize the music, make it more accessible to me, make me feel like I'm THERE, sitting in the room with these musicians. Once again thanks are due to Richard Nevins and the crew at Yazoo (a division of Shanachie)for making this great music accessible!!

Suzy Rothfield Thompson

Back to Top

Various Artists - The Alan Lomax Collection Sampler
Rounder 1700
CD reissue of field recordings, primarily from the late '50s, some previously issued on LP

It is always difficult to write reviews of sampler recordings, but it's especially difficult when dealing with a scope as wide as this set. As many readers will know already, Rounder Records has agreed to issue over the next several years more than 100 CDs encompassing the lengthy and deep collecting career of Alan Lomax, one of the best-known folk music collectors in the world. This sampler disc tries to address the entire collection in about 70 minutes, on 38 selections. It's a mind-boggling journey of the highest order, but it barely touches many of the nooks and crannies into which Mr. Lomax delved in his long career. The proposed CD releases are broken down into themes or categories. The first set is half available, that is, six of the 13 Southern Journey discs are now available. Each of these discs contains a variety of music (and they are being reviewed elsewhere, seperately, in this magazine), but this series promises to have the most old-time music content. Spencer Moore and Everett Blevins perform a nice version of "The Girl I Left Behind," but it is not particularly a memorable piece, not one that would make old-time music enthusiasts run out to buy that set. There are selections on the Southern Journey recordings that will create such a feeling, however, so I am somewhat puzzled by this choice as the old-time music representation. The Alabama Sacred Harp Convention also chimes in in this segment with "Sherburne," a nice hymn, quite powerfully rendered in typical Sacred Harp style.

Other categories covered here include Prison Songs, The Caribbean Collection, The English, Scottish & Irish Recordings, The Spanish Collection, The Italian Collection (no, sorry, nothing from the Stefanini Brothers here), The Columbia World Library, Deep River of Song (this features a nice fiddle tune by Sid Hemphill, "John Henry." Mississippian Hemphill is best known for his fife playing), Portraits, and the Ballad Operas.

The Portraits category will feature entire CDs of artists that enraptured Mr. Lomax enough that he recorded them in depth. The samples we have here on this disc are Scottish singer Jeannie Robertson, Delta blues artists Fred McDowell and Son House, and one of the giants of old-time music, Hobart Smith, doing a great rendition of hi s song "Hawkins County Jail." The booklet notes that Texas Gladden, one of the finest old-time singers I've ever heard (and Smith's sister) also will be featured in this category.

The Ballad Operas description also proves a bit enticing, especially when describing Lomax's piece, "The Martins and the McCoys." It features performances by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, Fiddlin' Arthur Smith, Sonny Terry, and "members of the Coon Creek Girls" (presumably Lily May Ledford), with narration by Will Geer. With no further details, it is difficult to speculate. The example here is Guthrie's "Bound To Loose."

I am sorry to report that very little of this sampler is old-time music by any stretch of the imagination, but I am pleased to note that it is all highly interesting to those who have musical interests beyond our genre. If you have a narrow scope, and some who read this magazine certainly do, then you had best look elsewhere for your old-time music.

Now, I also note that on the cover of the review set I received, it states:

"Professional Use Only, Not For Sale."

I have seen this set offered for sale in catalogs and on the Internet, at bargain prices, so I hope that all is on the up-and-up with its saleability.

A nice 72-page booklet accompanies the one sampler disc. In addition to descriptions of each tune and performer, it contains a brief treatise on the categories I ennumerated above, and some interesting photographs of many of the artists featured as well as pictures of Mr. Lomax at work in the field. Some tributes were written by various celebrities extolling the virtues of Lomax and his family and their lifes' work. Some may have a relevance but most do not, sorry to say. Lomax himself has a nice essay published here that first appeared as a magazine article in 1960.

This is a wonderful introduction to the breadth of world music, but I have a few reservations about what I hear and read in this set. It seems that Mr. Lomax has enjoyed some meddling with traditions. He has created some fusion sessions, most notably by bringing a number of various traditions together for a film session, then documenting it. A tangential occurrence related to that incident involves Blue Ridge musician Hobart Smith being recorded with the Georgia Sea Island Singers. I don't know how this was presented in the original form, but at least here Mr. Lomax owns up to inserting a foreign element into another culture, then recording it to see the results. He also admits to arranging some of the pieces that he had recorded, hoping to repeat "his" success with the popularizing of (and profiting from) folk music, such as with "Goodnight Irene" and "The Rock Island Line." Such incidents call his objective scholarship into question in my mind, but I will not belabor this point any further.

Another thing that strikes me though, is that when I think of the Lomax Family, I think of field recordings made in Eastern Kentucky of some of the finest old-time fiddling I have ever heard, of the recordings of the Galax and Whitetop Fiddlers Conventions, of Emmet Lundy, of Marcus Martin. None of these 1930s and 1940s recordings will be contained within this huge outpouring of Lomax Collection CDs. I believe that everything in this mammoth collection will be from the late '50s forward, recorded in stereo. It seems once again that our little niche in the music world is being overlooked, ignored. I would hope that other projects are underway to issue at least some of this material on CD, as it is among the best performances of old-time fiddling and banjo playing ever laid down on aluminum.

So I have a lot of mixed feelings about this whole huge endeavor as it relates to old-time music. But for sheer listening pleasure, this sampler is quite rightly a beautiful self-indulgence.

Kerry Blech

Back to Top

Various Artists - Rural String Bands of Tennessee
County 3511

Weems String Band: Greenback Dollar, Davy/Roane County Ramblers: Everybody Two-Step, Alabama Trot/Vance's Tennessee Breakdowners: Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase, Tennessee Breakdown/Warren Caplinger's Cumberland Mountain Entertainers: Saro/Charlie Bowman and His Brothers: Forked Deer, Moonshiner and His Money/Grant Brothers: Johnson Boys/Lindsey and Condor: Boll Weevil/Grayson and Whitter: Going Down the Lee Highway/Tennessee Ramblers: Preacher got Drunk and Laid His Bible Down/Ridgel's Fountain Citians: Baby Call Your Dog Off/McCartt Brothers and Patterson: Green Valley Waltz/Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Baker: On the Banks of the Old Tennessee/Homer Davenport & the Young Brothers: The Old Hen Cackled/Perry County Music Makers: I'm Sad and Blue.

Ahhh, here is a very nice set of reissues, but please don't be scared off by the bland cover art. It's what's inside that counts, and here we have some dandy recordings made originally between April 1925 (Davenport and the Young Brothers) and April 1930 (the Ridgel ensemble). Some of the Volunteer State's finest fiddlers are represented here. The best-known of the lot probably would be Charlie Bowman, who earned more than a modicum of fame with his stint with Al Hopkins' Hill Billies. With his brothers, Walter ("that runt") on banjo and Elbert on guitar, along with friend Frank Wilson on steel guitar, he illustrates why he was so popular among fiddle enthusiasts with Forked Deer and Money in Both Pockets / Boys My Money's All Gone from the "Moonshiner" skit. It is sheer pleasure to listen to these folks. Too bad they did not record much in this configuration. Anyone who's spent time talking with Ralph Blizard knows about Dudley Vance and what an influential fiddler he was in Eastern Tennessee. His Tennessee Breakdown pulls parts from other well-remembered pieces to become a new melody, one that certainly illustrates why he was so popular. Although it has become a darling number of the old time revival, Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase was never issued commercially. The old LP issue of it (and now this CD reissue) was taken from a test pressing. It's a brilliant tune, exceedingly well-played. It boggles the mind to wonder why it was not issued on 78. Jimmy McCarroll was yet another gifted regional fiddler. We get to hear him twice too, with his Roane County Ramblers, on Everybody Two-Step and the rousing breakdown, Alabama Trot, which the band seems to have called The Georgia Fox Trot. Jess Young was a powerhouse of a fiddler, though not very well-known outside his region. Unfortunately we only hear one of his hot numbers, The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster Crowed, as he is backed by brother Alvin on guitar and the great fingerstyle banjoist Homer Davenport (who would later play with Lonnie Robertson out in Missouri). Notable about this version of Hen Cackle is the dramatic key change, which apparently was a regional preference characteristic in the Sequatchie Valley, as both Bob Douglas and his father had been recorded playing similar versions to Young's. Last, but certainly not least, in this category is G. B. Grayson. Grayson probably has made the deepest impression of all the artists on this disk. His seminal Going Down the Lee Highway is among his finest efforts.

While the above-named groups featured virtuoso, or "brag," fiddlers, most of the other bands on this disk featured strong, if not mind-blowing, fiddling. Some of these other groups also were known for some novelty aspects of performance or for their singing. The Weems group kicks off the CD with Greenback Dollar, which seems closely related to the tune called Christmas Eve, that was recorded by the African American string band of John Lusk, Murphy Gribble, and Albert York for the Archive of Folk Song in the '40s and was also played by Kentuckian Jim Bowles. The only other side Weems recorded is also included here, Davy. From the same county as the Weems group were the Perry County Music Makers, featuring Nonny Presson's unique zither playing and a beautiful song, I'm Sad And Blue. One of my favorite novelty groups is Ridgel's Fountain Citians, whose Baby Call Your Dog Off, featuring a whining vocal. The song is reminiscent of the Take a Drink or Take a Whiff songs, but also has interjections and asides that would stand up with the best of John Dilleshaw's humorous commentary.

Well, I could go on, track by track, extolling the virtues of this wonderful recording. It is a fine package, nearly all around (I would love to see nicely laid out photos of one set of the musicians included, perhaps, rather than a bland cartoony cover illustration, as this and the Virginia stringbands CD, also on County, have). We have exquisite remastering from the 78s by Richard Nevins, a nice section listing personnel and recording data for each cut and a fine essay and biographical portraits by Charles K. Wolfe, as well as some fine portraits of the musicians. At some point during my initial listening to this recording, I contemplated the absence of some of my favorite string bands from Tennessee. I later learned that more reissues of similar material is in the works, coming soon from County. I have heard that they are planning a set (or more?) of material from the early bands who performed on the Grand Ole Opry. If is has even the vaguest resemblance to the old Nashville String Bands sets that County issued on LP about 20 years ago, they will be items to save up for.

I must disclose that I have a strong preference for reissues of 78s, even more so now than previously because of the technological advances that have given us a higher signal to noise ratio. Given that caveat, without any further ado, I highly recommend this set, with no other qualifications.

Kerry Blech

Back to Top

Various Artists - Songs And Ballads of the Anthracite Miners
Rounder CD 1502

William E. Keating, John J. Quinn, Jerry Byrne, James Muldowney, Daniel Walsh, Andrew Rada, Albert Morgan, Morgan Jones

Down, Down, Down/The Avondale Mine Disaster/Me Johnny Mitchell Man/Boys on the Hill/On Johnny Mitchell's Train/Rolling on the Rye Grass/The Old Miner's Refrain/John J. Curtis/A Celebrated Workingman/When the Breaker Starts Up Full Time/Union Man/The Miner's Doom/Down in a Coal Mine/The Shoofly.

These recordings were made in remote mining villages of Pennsylvania in 1946, as part of the Library of Congress's first post-war collecting endeavor. They were originally released in 1947, in the Archive of Folk Culture's series, Folk Music of the United States. Now they have been re-released on CD, and are accompanied by a many-paged, extremely informative booklet.

All these songs have an Irish sound, even down to the singers' accents. So if you don't listen to the words carefully, it's easy to think that you're listening to old Childe Ballads. But no, these are songs which reflect individual experience in a particular place. The irony of course is that individual experience turns out to be universal. These men sang of events their own communities, present and past, yet their situation was like that of many working people. The labor was physically breaking, and the working conditions were controlled by the mine owners. So we find here songs of lament, of mine disasters, of heroic exploits and of union organization.

These songs are like a northeastern parallel to cowboy songs: one cowboy boasts of his strength and skill, one is killed by a freak accident, and one sings of his loneliness by the night fire. Similarly, we have "A Celebrated Workingman," which pokes fun at a braggart; "The Avondale Mine Disaster," which recounts the "anthracite industry's first major tragedy, in which 110 men and boys were lost"; and "The Old Miner's Refrain" (to the tune of "Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane"), which "reflects the full cycle of an anthracite miner's career," and sums up "hopes, dreams, thwarted ambitions and the fear of a dependent old age."

The cover is a little misleading: it's a picture of miners sitting on a porch, making string-band music. We see a miner dancing on boards, two playing fiddles, and one playing guitar while three others stand behind, clapping and enjoying themselves. In truth, there are only two fiddle tunes on the album, and these are played, by James Muldowney, on a single fiddle. "Boys on the Hill" and "Rolling on the Rye Grass" are both very English-sounding tunes - they have that straight up-and-down rhythm that can seem a little stiff to one who is used to southern syncopation. This album features unaccompanied singing, wonderful singing. It gives an impression of formality, as if men usually wearing grubby work-clothes have put on suits and ties to sing. (They are not actually wearing suits and ties, according to the pictures in the booklet, but the voices do have elegant grace nevertheless.) It's the sound of self-respect, I think, the sound of a person standing up and investing all his breath in telling his story. The voices are rich too, each with a different character. William E. Keating, on "Down Down Down," has a thin, reedy voice; John J. Quinn, on "Avondale Mile Disaster," uses round, deep tones; John J. Curtis, on "The Old Miner's Refrain," uses quite a bit of vibrato. I enjoyed the variety of male voices and approaches to singing. Jerry Byrne, on "Me Johnny Mitchell Man," makes even this lighthearted song drip with emotion, while Daniel Walsh's "A Celebrated Workingman" manages to be both stately and boastful.

Nevertheless, for my own southern taste, this album is more interesting historically than musically. That is, I wouldn't put it on to be lilted along by the tunes, and I don't have the urge to learn any of the songs. However, I am moved by this album, hearing the ways in which public life, community life, is transformed into personal expression, and the ways in which this small culture has commemorated itself, its moods and events, its jokers and heros.

It is no wonder that The Library of Congress, and especially its Archive of Folk Culture, is so often threatened by those who distribute this country's money. People who can remember their histories, who know what they have to be proud of, who can enjoy and keep their heritage alive, these are powerful people, and I think that our country has mixed feelings about whether it wants its people to be powerful or not. The people at Rounder probably did not intend to make political statements by re-releasing this material, but I think that they have. In this time when many individual voices are made less individual by the pervasiveness of mass media language, in this time when we are referred to as the undifferentiated "American People," it is good to remember this small group of men in Pennsylvania: how hard they worked, and how they sang of that work when the day was done.

Molly Tenenbaum

Back to Top

Various Artists - Southern Journey, Volume 2: Ballads and Breakdowns - Songs from the Southern Mountains
Rounder 3719

Wade Ward: Old Joe Clark/Fox Chase/Cluck Old Hen; Estil C. Ball: Poor Ellen Smith; Hobart Smith: Sourwood Mountain/Peg An' Awl/Graveyard Blues/Fly Around My Blue-Eyed Girl/Parson Burrs/Black Annie/The Little Schoolboy; Spencer Moore: The Girl I Left Behind; Glen Stoneman: John Henry/Texas Gladden: Three Little Babes/Hicks' Farewell/Whole Heap A Little Horses; Norman Edmonds: Bonaparte's Retreat/Breaking Up Christmas; Charlie Higgins & Wade Ward: June Apple/Willow Garden/Uncle Charlie's Breakdown/Piney Woods' Gal; George Stoneman: Sally Anne; Ruby Vass: The Banks of the Ohio/Single Girl; Bob Carpenter: The Burglar Man.

It seems right now that there are about a thousand CDs of material that Alan Lomax recorded waiting for issue or reissue. There are actually over 100, a still significant amount. Not all will be of interest to readers of this magazine, but all will include superb music. This disc may be the one of most interest. The field recordings herein were made in 1959 in various locations around southwestern Virginia and include some of the greatest players and singers the Blue Ridge has produced. Most, but not all, were part of a series of LPs, Southern Journey, issued on the Prestige label in 1962. They helped kick off what we now call the Old-time Music Revival, though from these recordings one can clearly see that the music was anything but dead or stagnant in its region of origin.

There's an interesting essay in the booklet by Andrew Kaye, setting the time period and discussing some of the musical styles found in the Blue Ridge at that time. There are extensive notes about each selection, listing personnel, recording date and location, and a description of the performance, including some lyrics. Some lovely photos of many of the performers also enhances the booklet. The mainly excellent notes offer a few false steps: why wasn't "Uncle Charlie's Breakdown" identified as "Twinkle Little Star," for example, I also suspect a typo or misidentification here and there. The quality of the music supersedes such nit-pickiness in any case.

And what music!!! Any fiddling by Uncle Charlie Higgins is mesmerizing. How about Hobart's wild piano version of "Fly Around . . ."? Texas Gladden's stunning singing? Glen Stoneman's ferocious fiddling on "John Henry" nearly steals the recording. But there are so many luminaries here, you can't just point to one or two cuts. Wade Ward. The Legendary Wade Ward. At his peak. His banjo, always stunning, gets a workout in his narrative piece, "The Fox Chase." It is upon such performances that the legends are built. Estil Ball, another giant from the area, has his graceful, strong guitar and his resonant voice. Hobart Smith, shining on any instrument he picks up: fiddle guitar, piano, banjo, and what a voice-his "Graveyard Blues" on the guitar is one of the classics. Norman Edmonds is one of my favorite fiddlers, yet he is nearly eclipsed by the shining performances of his cohorts. This recording has nearly everything going for it, with great instrumentals on a wide variety of instruments, some incredible singing, great sound, nice design, documentation.

Kerry Blech

Back to Top

Various Artists - When I Was A Cowboy Vols. 1 & 2
Yazoo 2022

Vol. 1 Cartwright Bros.-Utah Carroll, Texas Ranger/Edward L. Crain-Bandit Cole Younger/J.D. Farley-Bill Was a Texas Lad/Jules Allen-'Long Side the Santa Fe Trail/Carl Sprague-The Mormon Cowboy, The Last Longhorn/Martin & Roberts-The Roundup in the Spring/Ken Maynard-The Lone Star Trail, The Cowboy's Lament/Crowder Bros.-Wild West Rambler/Harry McClintock-Sam Bass, Goodbye Old Paint/Patt Patterson & His Champion Rep Riders-The Wandering Cowboy/Arkansas Woodchopper-I'm a Texas Cowboy/Lonesome Luke & His Farm Hands-Wild Hog in the Woods/Arthur Miles-Lonely Cowboy Pt. 1 & 2/Powder River Jack & Kitty Lee-Tying a Knot in the Devil's Tail/Billie Maxwell-Haunted Hunter/Taylor's Kentucky Boys-The Dixie Cowboy/Dick Devall-Out on the Lone Star Cow Trail/Watts & Wilson-The Sporting Cowboy.

Vol. 2 Jimmie Davis-Cowboy's Home Sweet Home/Harry McClintock-Jesse James/Cartwright Bros.-Get Along Little Dogies, The Dying Ranger/Jack Webb-The Night Guard/Gerald & Dixon-Back to My Wyoming Home/Carl Sprague-The Cowboy/Jules Allen-The Gal I Left Behind Me/Paul Hamblin-The Strawberry Roan/Rowdy Wright-I'm a Wandering Bronco Rider/Delmore Bros.-The Fugitive's Lament/Crockett Family-Buffalo Gals Medley/Billie Maxwell-Billy Venero Pt. 1 & 2/J.D. Farley-I'm a Lone Star Cowboy/Buell Kazee-The Cowboy Trail/Powder River Jack & Kitty Lee-My Love Is a Cowboy/Patt Patterson & Lois Dexter-Snow Covered Face/Frank Jenkins & His Pilot Mountaineers-The Burial of Wild Bill/Dick Devall-Tom Shaman's Barroom/Rowdy Wright-I'm a Jolly Cowboy/Ken Maynard-Home on the Range/McGinty's Oklahoma Cowboy Band-Cowboy's Dream.

The cowboy has long been our national hero, from the days of the dime novel, through the early film depictions by Bronco Billy Anderson, William S. Hart, and Tom Mix, to the singing cowboys of the '30s and the TV cowboys of the '50s and '60s. Our argonaut, our knight errant, the mythic worldwide representative of our national character, he's everyman, based in reality and exaggerated to epic proportions. His music, and I'm referring to the genuine article as opposed to the pale imitation fed us by the likes of Hollywood punchers like Autry and the Sons of the Pioneers, provides a revealing and exciting view of this "hired man on horseback," as cowboy and author Gene Rhodes described him.

Where do I find this music, you might ask? And well you should, because it's been hard come by lately. A few fine LPs of the old 78 recordings, notably RCA Victor's Vintage Series Authentic Cowboys and Their Western Folksongs and Morning Star's When I Was a Cowboy have been out of print for years. Marimac released a tape called Make Me a Cowboy Again for A Day, which is also no longer available. But now Yazoo rides to our rescue! They have given us two volumes on CD called When I Was a Cowboy (just as the above-mentioned LP was titled), described on the covers as "Early American Songs of the West, Classic Recordings From the 1920s and '30s." You might decide two CDs, 46 songs in all, is a larger dose of cowboy music than you need. Cough up the dinero, pardner, for these are dynamite. Any collection of old-time music should include some genuine, and preferably vintage, cowboy recordings and these are not just the best currently available but, I believe, the best collection ever released. At least get one if you feel you can't afford both, but don't expect me to tell you which of the two to buy. They're both too good to miss.

Yazoo's first volume in the set uses the same cover graphic as the old Morning Star When I Was a Cowboy and on the two CDs they include all but two of the selections from the LP. Why they deleted the Delmore Brothers "Bury Me Out on the Prairie" and Uncle Pete and Louise's "Out on the Western Range" is a mystery to me. They are both outstanding cuts. And while I'm at it, how could a cowboy collection skip Powder River Jack's "Powder River, Let 'Er Buck," Jules Verne Allen's "Zebra Dun," Carl Sprague's "Following the Cow Trail," and any versions of either "The Old Chisolm Trail" or "The Last Great Roundup." The latter song is also called "The Cowboy's Dream," but is not the "Cowboy's Dream" on Vol. 2, which is a fiddle tune. Even more I miss Billie Maxwell's "Cowboy's Wife" which gives such a poignant glimpse into the life of a woman on the range. And what about. . . I guess what I'm saying is that Vol. 3 is called for and, if we all go out and purchase these first two, it may be forthcoming. Even though there are other choices I would question, it's never because of the musical quality. "Wild Hog in the Woods" by the Kentucky string band Lonesome Luke and His Farm Hands is included because it features square dance calls that refer to cowboys. I find that a borderline reason for the choice. The Crockett Family's "Buffalo Gals Medley" is also a selection that seems strange to me. Perhaps these were to provide more variety since so many of the recordings are simply vocal with guitar, the way we often think of cowboy singing. However, unlike many anthologies of cowboy music, there is a lot of instrumental variety here: the Cartwright Brothers fiddle and guitar, as well as their beautifully archaic "Texas Rangers" with only vocal and fiddle; Martin and Roberts mandolin/guitar duet; harmonica on Powder Jack's and Rowdy Wright's recordings; lovely banjo on Taylor's Kentucky Boys' "The Dixie Cowboy" (a version of the popular "When the Work's All Done This Fall"), Buell Kazee's "The Cowboy Trail," and Watts and Wilson's "The Sporting Cowboy"; Hawaiian guitars on numerous cuts, fiddle bands, and even a couple of tremendous unaccompanied numbers. Someone once told me traditional cowboy music all sounded the same (like fiddle tunes to the uninitiated?) and was boring, but this collection offers plenty of proof to the contrary.

The songs themselves are mostly the real McCoy, stories of the west that have been passed in the traditional manner. These are tales of the hardship of cowboy life, outlaw ballads, humorous sand joyous songs of western life, and a few dance tunes. The singing throughout is terrific, gritty and salty, the kind that makes you close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting around the campfire with a tin cup full of muddy coffee and a bunch of dusty comrades nodding at each singer's offering. Only a few of the selections have a little more modern sound, particularly Rowdy Wright's "I'm a Wandering Bronco Rider" and "I'm a Jolly Cowboy" and the Crowder Brothers' "Wild West Rambler," but they're good and decidedly more real than anything Hollywood every produced. The liner notes are beautiful with photos and other appropriate graphics, but I'm surprised they are so sparse. There are partial lyrics to songs, yet no historical or discographical information on the cuts. I do find this an unfortunate omission.

I always figure the end of the review should tell you what the reviewer wants you to go away with, a final impression. Well, I've already tipped my hand way back at the start. Reviewers often talk of "essential recordings" and I don't think I've ever reviewed anything I said that about. These are. Buy them now and let Yazoo know we want more of the same.

Bob Bovee

Back to Top

The Old Time Herald PO Box 61679• Durham, NC • 27715-1679
Phone (919) 286-2041